One to Grow On

January 24, 2010

Flying to the Red Center

Filed under: Australia, children, Planes, travel — midway2go @ 2:41 am
How may times do I promise myself that I will remember? How many moments do I close my eyes and try to store them in my mind, permanently, so I’ll never lose them? Now, from the airplane, I promise to remember the clouds; they look like a huge, creamy fleur-de-lit, repeating over and over above the Outback. On the ground I see rivers of red dirt, miles and miles of scrubby trees. Bushes in every direction, as far as I can see. A thick, muddy-looking river snakes into the distance. By it runs what must be a road, red dirt skinny and determined, cutting across hills and creek beds. In all this vastness I’ve seen one thing that might be a roof, one dwelling. One place of shelter in all that emptiness. 

Here white interrupts the bush in what looks like lightning strikes on the face of the earth, jagged, branching lines cutting across the hills. Now we must be over a sheep station,

Kata Tjutas from the air

 geometrically straight lines connect perfectly rectangular pools. They must be irrigation pools or watering holes. Their not-naturalness is shocking imposed on the curving, undulating landscape. 

Leaving Cairns we swooped out over the Coral Sea. The mountains slope down into the water. They’re so green and the water is so blue. Out from shore the Great Barrier Reef shows up brown under the water, and the water puddles around it in green aprons. Rory and Nora and I gasp as we come up just high enough to see the sun rising over the cumulus clouds, turning them silvery and orange. I reach for my camera. I can’t stop smiling. 

There’s something special about an early morning flight. Any early morning endeavour, really. At dinner last night Rory had a laundry list of things he hated about travel; he said he’s wanted to go since we got to Australia. He hates the heat and he hates the changes and he doesn’t even want to go to Asia. He wanted only to go home. But, this morning, as we walked out of the airport, into the muggy dawn, we were all three squealing and squeezing hands and eager to be on the move. For a moment it looked like we would be climbing metal stairs to board a plane with massive propellers tucked under the wings. I nearly swooned with pleasure. Alas, we climbed up onto a regular plane, albeit one old enough that it has ashtrays on the outside of the lavatories. Imagine. Anyway, we were a quiver with the mystery and allure of boarding a plane headed into the remote Outback. I for one would like to banish gateways connecting gates to airplanes in smooth, aseptic banality. I vote for a return to walking out into the weather and climbing metal stairs. You know you’re going somewhere. 

Our flight left Cairns this morning at 6:30 am, which meant all last night was dedicated to the tasks of leaving one place for another. Clothes, freshly laundered, were sorted into piles and rolled, squeezed into our packing cubes and wedged into the suitcase. Food had to be sorted: canned food shoe-horned into the smaller suitcase, unopened rice thins and cereal bars tucked into a snack bag for the plane. I set aside enough food for breakfast in the airport: two soy yogurts, what’s left of the cereal and opened soy milk, leftover corn on the cob. We still have mangos, given to us by friends we made in Yungaburra. They wrote messages to us on the skins and wrapped them up like presents in newspaper. We’ve been waiting for them to ripen. I couldn’t leave them behind, so in the bag they went. I tossed in a few carrots each. All the rest of the food got left behind. After Rory and Nora fell asleep, already dressed in the clothes they’ll wear on the plane, I did last minute things, charging iPods while we had plugs, topping up the battery on the cellphone. Boring, tedious tasks that, if undone, add to the tedium of travel. I went through all the backpacks one more time, throwing out scraps of paper and leaving behind anything we could spare- a couple of books, a plastic spatula, a huge serving spoon left over from camping in New Zealand. I got backpacks zipped, suitcases lined up, and fell asleep with my cell phone in my hand, the alarm on it set to go off at 3:30am. 

I probably checked the time on my phone ten times before I finally just went ahead and got up at 3:15. When I went to put away the computer I realized that I have had a good wireless connection from the room. How had I not figured that out in five nights there? I checked my email, wrote to Brandon, and still had plenty of time to get in a call to Jill. Not a bad way to start the day. I woke Rory up talking, and soon after that Nora opened her eyes. We were downstairs, lined up and ready to go, at 4:15am, fifteen minutes before the shuttle was due to pick us up. 

Out the window the Outback of my imagination has taken over. Giant lakes spread out under us, but they can’t be water, because in the middle there’s a real lake, or pond, that is full of water. What can the other be? Sand? Dirt? It stretches as far as I can see out the window, and with no clouds at 34,000 feet, that’s a good distance. A ribbon of trees runs through it. I love to travel on the ground. This summer’s trip across country was dreamy. Nora and I plotted our progress on a map, after each drive coloring the road in with a blue marker. We could see our line stretching toward the Pacific, then turning north into Canada, then making our way back to Georgia. It’s a not-so-secret goal of mine to go around the world on the surface, to see it, to appreciate the bigness and the space of it. So, I’ve been pretty bummed out that we’re doing so much flying in Australia. Here’s a continent similar in size to the continental US, and I hate to miss it. But, today, from way up here, I feel better about it. Partly because I look down at the Outback and fancy driving across it on my own with two kids. Can you imagine a breakdown out there? But more than that, I would hate to miss the view from up here. The bushes dotting the dry creek beds, curling and writhing across the redness, look like dots and swirls that make up the Aboboriginal artwork. The land is the huge; maybe it’s right to see it from on high. We’re almost to Uluru. I can’t wait. 

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January 22, 2010

Other Sweaters

Filed under: Uncategorized — midway2go @ 7:47 pm

With some trepidation we rented a car in Cairns and headed out to see what else we could love about northern Queensland. You know how it is when you have a sweater that you really like and you wear it so much you realize you need to get another one? And the feeling of dread when it’s time to go shopping? And when you get to the store, you look at all the other sweaters and think, Well, you’re okay, but I’ll never love you like I do my real sweater? That’s the feeling I had leaving Cairns, but then I went shopping and found I could love another sweater. Two other sweaters, in fact, Yungaburra on the Atherton Tablelands and Cape Tribulation.  

We had arranged a rental car to come to our hostel in Cairns. The guy showed up with the smallest two door Hyundai I’ve ever seen. It would fit in the back of my station wagon back home. Tiny. Travel-sized, no less. Well, our stuff fit into it, but just barely. There were backpacks and cloth bags of food and activity books suqeezed into every inch. Usually Rory and Nora ooh and aah about each and every one of our rental cars. They find them so “fancy.” Now, some of our rental cars have been decidedly unfancy, like the one with 98,000 hard kilometers on it or the flimsy one with windows that only cranked down (they really loved that). I’ve found their appreciation of the rental cars a little insulting and a lot baffling, so upon further questioning they have admitted that what they really mean is that the cars are clean. Free of crap. No clutter. So, totally unlike my car. Well, this little Hyundai, it didn’t get oohs or ahhs, just questions about how they were supposed to get in it. They had never spent much time climbing in and out of a two door hatchback, and they didn’t exactly get the hang of it. Both of them, at least once, was pushing with all their might on the back of a front seat when I pulled the lever to flop it forward. Rory once almost shot through the dash. I never got the timing so perfect again…  

Anyway, so we got ourselves wedged into this tiny little car, and on the very first try I got the right road out of town. We wound our way south for a bit, then turned inland. In less time than I expected when zipped into, and then out of, our destination, Yungaburra. Rory said, witheringly, “You’re not lost again?” I assured him I wasn’t, that I had every intention of scoping out the town and then passing right through on the way to, um, yes, this attraction signposted ahead. Thus, we found ourselves at the Curtain Fig. This is a tree that started life as a modest strangler fig, a tree that uses another, bigger tree as a crutch, then eventually kills off the crutch. This tree just kept on going, one crutch after another, until now it’s freestanding with a massive trail of vines that look like, well, a curtain. Was this fascinating to my two young companions? Heavens, no. The lizard on the tree, however, they could have looked at all day. It was a Hoyt’s Forrest Dragon (I hope I’ve got that right), and it was pretty cool. It turned its head and looked around, kind of in a creaky way,  just enough to let you know it was still alive.  

We made our way back into town, and managed to find our way straight to a playground. Waiting on top of the slide were not one, not two, but three boys wearing Ben 10 t-shirts. In no time Rory was at the center of the action. The boys flatly refused to believe that we had really come all that way from America. Rory had me go over to the group to testfy, but they seemed to still have their doubts. THey just couldn’t believe it. It was great. We’ve been moving around so much, hanging out with other travellers from all over, that it was so wonderful to have a small group of kids remind me that, yes, we had really, truly come half way around the world, and that’s a big deal. What an amazing thing, seen with such clarity. One even said, “You came all this way to play on our playground?” Well, little Yungaburran, we sure did.  

We moosied over to the hostel after that. We had planned to camp in their backyard, but chance of rain made an easy excuse for me to go spring for an inside room. This place, On the Wallaby, is what a hostel should be like. Great spaces to eat and hang out in, a kitchen that was well-stocked and (shock!) clean. Out back there was a ping pong table, and they kept Rory and Nora endlessly supplied with ping pong balls, no extra charge. There was no tv, no clocks, no bank of computers lined up. There were cool people like Florence and Madeleine (who squeezed themselves into our car to go swimming with us in a volcano crater lake) and Scott (our first fellow North Carolinian) and Damien and Sergio, the guys who kept the place going. It was the kind of place that makes you realize how lonely travel can be, other times. There was a mango tree with messages written on the fruits and there were huge wooded tables where meals were shared and there were free rides to see duckbilled playpuses paddle around in a creek. Can you tell we loved this place? The morning we left Damien played Beastie Boys and the kids had a dance battle. It was hilly and green and almost always warm. It was a smaller, more tropical Asheville. It was tough to go.  

We left heading north, past Cairns up to Cape Tribulation. Unless I’m wildly mistaken this is the only place inthe world where two World Heritage sights meet. The Daintree rainforest comes right down the hills and runs into the Great Barier Reef waiting there in the Coral Sea. To get there we had to do a few of things. One, hope and pray that the Wet held off so the road stayed open. Two, take a cable ferry across a crocodile infested river. Three, cough up a wad of dough to stay in a cabin tucked into the rainforest, just steps from the beach.  

We made it up the road and across the ferry. The road swooped and dove over hills and around curves. Thinking back on it I want to use words like “emerald” and “crystalline,” but I can’t because they sound silly. But I’d like to. All along the coast there were no buildings, not sign of civilasation. Trees leaning out over the white sand, tourquoise water lapping at the shore. Breath-taking.  

We followed the paved road past signs warning of cassowaries crossing, of cars washing over the sides of bridges in fast moving water, even past one warning of a flying unicorn crossing. We crossed bridges without sides and drove over creeks on square logs loosely joined together. Finally we drove past the end of the paved road and onto the track that leads to Cooktown, only 40 miles or so to the north. We were staying at Cape Tribulation Beach House, and we were excited. Well, it was my fault. See, the kids were so bummed about leaving the Wallaby that I kind of talked up the cabin to cheer them up. What a mistake. They took a couple of promises like “private cabin” and “a/c any time we want it” and turned the place into a mulitroom vacation home with flat screen tv and a sunken tub. The place never stood a chance. We had to park at the top of a quarter mile long path and lug our stuff down a hill to a cabin that had all the charm of a pressboard box. There was no glass in the windows, so to run the a/c you had to close the metal louvers on all three sides of the room, leaving it in total darkness except for a single bulb. There were the three promised beds, crammed in together. I thought to myself, Well, at least we can drink the water. Then, I drank the water. It tasted terrible. Within an hour Rory and I both were sick. It would have been funny if we had only had two toilets.  

Thankfully the rest of Cape Trib and even our resort was so cool that we (okay, I) didn’t mind the disappointing cabin. A little further down the path was the main area, with a pool and a cafe and bar with tons of tables under a soaring canvas. Just beyond the pool on the path was one of the prettiest beaches I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, it was the most deadly beach I’ve ever seen. The water was full of stingers, local slang for a collection of jellyfish (box jellies and their tiny cousins with a difficult name), lethal enough to slay a horse. And if the stingers don’t get you there’s always the chance that a saltie, a saltwater crocodile, will come up out of the surf and drag you away. We had a quick look, checked out some cool patterns made by burrowing animals in the sand, took a couple of photos and left. As Rory said, that’s just cruel. So beautiful, but so deadly.  

One cool thing we did in the Daintree was to go jungle surfing. Harnessed and striple-strapped to safety lines we zipped along through the canopy of the rain forest. We got five rides in all. From the tallest tree perch we could look out over the top of the jungle to the sea in the distance. At our fastest we zipped along at 35 km/hour. Nora and Rory had a blast. Our only complaint? That it ended so soon.  

I don’t think I’ve done a good job conveying the feeling up there. It’s a jungle. All around you the green of a hundred kinds of palms and bushes and plants explodes. We didn’t so much stay on the path as we were kept to it by the rainforest. All day birds call and shout and insects click and buzz, then at night the sounds change to rustling and croaking and humming. There are just so many things up there living and breathing and growing and dying. The air is heavy and hot and smells rich. Both nights the rains poured down, hammering against the leaves as big as umbrellas. When I lived in Ecuador I went with Laura to her house in the Amazon. I remember sitting in her sunroom, reading by a lamp, and I could hear the bodies of huge insects slamming into the glass windows. That’s what Cape Trib was like, and you could almost drink the water.  

A Day on the Reef

Filed under: Uncategorized — midway2go @ 7:21 pm
   

   

David Foster Wallace wrote a novella called A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. The thing was a seven day Caribbean cruise, and I think it’s both brialliant and unfair that he thought of that title and that I can’t use it. My Supposedly Fun Thing would be the cruise that Rory and Nora and I took out to the Great Barrier Reef. And I would do something like it again. In fact, I’m making plans to, now, once we get to Asia, only I’m hoping the same thing will work out quite differently.    

I’d been looking forward to the Reef since the day I started planning this trip. I mean, it’s one of the big things out there. The Great Wall of China, Macchu Picchu, the Great Barrier Reef. It is the largest living thing on the planet, so big that they’re not exactly sure juist how big it is. The estimates vary by 700 kilometers. That’s the variance, not the lenghth. It’s roughly the size of Kansas, and, having driven across that state three times, back and forth, I can vouch that that is huge. This was a huge experience, though, that I couldn’t wait to share with my kids.    

My original idea was a little fuzzy. In my mind’s eye, I saw us gliding across tourquiose seas on a fetching sloop. Holding hands we would leap, laughing, into crystal clear water. To our delight rainbow fish would flit below us, maybe we’d catch thrilling sight of a distant and harmless shark. Back on the boat we’d have a lovely dinner, them sleep on the deck in hammocks.    

I’m sure that that dream is attainable. I mean, most things in the travel industry are, given perfect timing and endless money. And it’s a lovely dream. Our reality was limited by the season (jellyfish and bluebottles galore) and Nora’s absolute refusal to get in the water. We ended up on a huge ship that docked at a permanet pontoon out on the reef. They offered a glass bottom boat, trips on a semi-submersed boat with great views onto the Reef, and a Kid’s Club that made childfree snorkling possible. Sounded, if not romantic, practical.    

The trip out to the reef was 90 minutes in the roughest seas they’ll sail in. We were surrounded by a boatload of people violently seasick. We three were okay, but Rory very nearly succumbed to what I’ll call Sympathetic Vomiting. What made it a little funnier was that a lot of our shipmates appeared to be a group of Japanese business men, and the few of them not sick took great, boisterous delight in crowing out each time another puked. Some spectator sport.    

Finally we docked at the pontoon, and Nora cheerfully stayed with the Kids’ Club hostess (i.e. babysitter) while Rory and I got gussied up in our Stinger Suits. These beauties looked like something Edna Moultz would unleash on the waters. We were encased in lycra, from our hooded heads to our stirruped feet. Even our hands were protected in mittens. Only our faces would be exposed, and of that eyes and noses would be covered by the snorkle mask. We were feeling pretty confident as we hopped into the water. Rory and I held hands and skimmed the water like champs. Below us fish of every color darted around. The reef itself is mostly shades of brown, but the colors of the fish jump out at you.  We came in to get ready to take our guided tour. We found the guide, Ted, rinsing his mouth out, lips swollen and eyes popping. Turns out he had been floating upright, explaining to the last group of snorklers just what they were looking at, when he got a bluebottle in his mouth. Let me repeat that: a toxic, painfully-stinging portugese man-of-war swam in the man’s mouth, and he nearly swallowed it. And here he was, preparing to go back in with us. Hmmm…   

So, in we went. Ted led us around the pontoon, and it was wonderful. He pointed out clownfish hiding in an anemonae. He dove down and scared a giant clam into closing. He led us just over the drop off so we could appreciate the safety of the reef. A sea turtle swam right by, and Rory followed it and watched as it came up to the surface to breathe. I kept squeezing Rory’s hand, hoping to share my excitement and my wonder and my deep desire that he stay closer to meand not swim off alone chasing huge sea creatures.    

We were following Ted back to the boat to see something else when Rory started screaming. He came up out of the water in a total panic. I grabbed his arm and steered him over to the side of the boat, where we were met by life guards with vinegar. He’d swum right through a bluebottle, and the tentacles were clinging to the hood of the stinger suit when I went to take it off him. He had a red slash across his chin where a tentacle crossed his face. Poor Rory. He’s never one to keep it to himself when he’s hurt, and he must have carried on for twenty minutes. I brushed the tentacles with my mittened hand while helping him out of his suit, then touched my own skin with the mitten, and even that was enough to feel hot and prickly and uncomfortable. Poor little guy. Nora took his hand and led him down some steps to a glassed in viewing room.    

Rory cheered up immediately, and Nora felt deeply justified in not going in the water.    

January 12, 2010

Cairns: Rhymes with Fans

Filed under: animals, Australia, children, food, Planes, travel — midway2go @ 6:28 am

The flight to Cairns from Sydney was bigger than I thought, in almost every way.  For starters, it was around three hours.  We were shown a feature length film and were served a meal.  We apparently left culture in exchange for something like wildness.  And, to top it off, we changed time zones.  All this, flying from a city on the southeast coast to a city on the northeast coast.  Same side of the country.  This is a big country.  Huge.   Getting off the plane we walked down wide metal stairs.  I love that.  I wish I were wearing big white sunglasses and had a bouffant.  What a great way to enter this tropical land.  We’re spending a few nights in Cairns at a hostel.  The hostel is in a renovated heritage hotel, with wide wooden floorboards and a deep second-story veranda that runs along the front and the side.  The paths around the grounds are verdant and rich.   The kitchen, where we spend a disproportionate part of the day, is open and the tiny swimming pool is at the end of the tables.   When I was in Sydney, calling around about rooms and prices, I finally thought to ask about air conditioning.  Keep in mind, the highs are in the low nineties and the lows are in the mid seventies.  The humidity is always around 75% if it’s not actively raining, which it is five or six times a day.  This is Savannah in July.  So, I asked if AC was available.  He assured me that it was, but cost $1 an hour.  “Ohterwise,” he said, “people would just want to run it all the time.”  Yes, imagine that. 

 In our hostel AC is free.  Of course, the remote to turn it on is only available to be checked out from 6pm until 9am… 

  

The view from my poolside chair

our dining room

 I was reading Bill Bryson’s book about Australia my last week in New Zealand.  I do love his writing, but he does get carried away.  He’s particularly concerned about all the different stuff in Australia that can sting, burn, eat, or find some other way to kill you.  About Queensland, the Australian state we’re in now, he was warned that the residents are “madder than cut snakes.”  Well, I don’t know about that, but I glanced through the weekend paper over coffee, and the following three stories caught my eye: 1.  A local family pulled a snake out of a hole in their backyard that measured over 4.2 meters.  Check my math, but I think that’s longer than 15 feet, and, I don’t have the paper in front of me, but I think it was a python.  And,  while the family is glad to have removed that hazard, they are concerned because it layed eggs and soon they’ll have to round up the offspring. 

 2. Cane toads, a classic case of an introduced species run amok, are invading neighborhoods to the extent that the columnist I was reading couldn’t go outside at night without stepping on them.  Now, this isn’t a small critter.  They are toxic at every stage of life, from toadpole to adult, and have no natural predators. They poison household pets merely by passing through their water bowls.  And their size?  They are about 10 inches long and weigh almost nine pounds.  That’s a lot of poisonous toad.  

3.    Three local men have been bitten in separate instances by flying foxes, a large bat.  Two became ill (seriously ill?  Is there any other kind?) by a virus carried by the bats.  I thought, hmmmm, then walked up the block to discover that the rustling Rory and Nora and I heard was made by the wings of the flying foxes roosting in the trees above us.  How did I figure that out?  A little sign stating that if you came across a solitary young please not to touch it but to notify someone immediately.   Oh, it’s child-rearing time for these charming creatures.  At dusk we see their dark outlines swooping around, their long fingers in their wings made visible by the illuminated sky.   Their wingspan must be 18-24 inches.  Beautiful, but I sure would love to know how those three guys got those bites. 

So, Bill Bryson, if you’re reading this, sorry for doubting.  I’m a true believer now, boy.   

flying foxes at rest

Pelicans and Spoonbills

Rory reading to Nora in his bunk

Waiting for the airport shuttle, they find "play" all around them.

 Despite the tacky tourist shops and the ugly concrete buildings, I love this place.  And we haven’t even done the good stuff, yet.  I love the weather, I love swimming with the kids after breakfast, then before lunch, then after dinner.  I love the ceiling fans.  I love that in a thrift shop today I could not find one dress with anything like a sleeve.  This is a town deeply committed to the tank top as a way of life.  I love that, too.

Can you spot Darth Vader’s Sunday Best?

Filed under: animals, Australia, children, food, travel — midway2go @ 3:28 am

Ibis on the playground with Nora playing
Here they are, in all their confused, jumbled splendor, some photos from Sydney.

The horn is really a tooth!  It’s from the male narwahl, probably the source of the unicorn legend.

Rory and Nora in front of the new, improved EndeavorThis 18 inch lizard, a gecko, was just hanging out by a bench. Yikes.

Mini-Swordfish, anyone? Only $14.95 a kilo?
Yummy Food Lady

January 9, 2010

It’s getting hot in here…

Filed under: Australia, children, weather — midway2go @ 4:54 pm
Yesterday we went to the Sydney Opera House to see a show. It was no opera, but it was incredible. We saw the Tom Tom Crew, Australia’s hip hop circus. The Crew consists of four very talented acrobats, a drummer, a Dj, and a human beatbox. Together they were magic. The acrobats moved like gravity didn’t apply to them, flipping through the air and flying over each other. Most of them trained in something called the Flying Fruit Fly Circus. I don’t know what that is, but I think Rory and Nora and I would like to sign up.

Here’s what Nora says about the Tom Tom Crew:

They were doing back flips, spinning on their heads, breakdancing. And they could stand on each others’ shoulders three people at a time.

Rory says:

They did this kind of see-saw thing, and blasted 10 feet into the air, and sometimes 20 or 30.

I don’t even have the vocabulary to talk about the crazy turntable antics and mixology that went on by Sampology, the DJ, or the drummer, who was the linchpin of the whole show. Tom Thun, the human beatbox, seemed like such a likeable fellow that I hate to call him a freak, but… what would you call someone who can make all the sounds of a jazz band while doing a beat background? Yep. Very entertaining, and incredibly talented, but a freak. Oh, and he can breakdance, spinning on his head, while beatboxing. So cool. Rory was jumping up and down in his seat. Look it up on YouTube. It’s that cool.

And we got to see the inside of the Opera House. The acoustics may be world-class, but the looks are nothing to scream about. Oh, well, the elevators have no ceiling, just open to the roof . That’s interesting, in a terrifying sort of way.

We came out of the Opera House into the sunshine I’d been dreaming of. The sidewalks and jetties were jammed with Sydneysiders and tourists making the most of the sun and the Friday afternoon. Everyone had a drink in hand, the conversations were at top volume. It looked like fun, like a whole city of people getting ready to have a really big time. I was happy to be a part of it, walking in the sun with Rory and Nora, trying to make up raps and beats and asking each other who we liked better, Beastie Boys or Tom Tom Crew (me: the Boys; them: the Crew) and if you could have the ability to drum like that guy or to flip through the air like the acrobats which would you pick (all agreed: the acrobats) and if you could be a lizard or a snake which would you choose (a lizard). The good feelings lasted the bus ride back to our neighborhood, through a quick dinner of Thai, and onto the dessert the kids have waited days for, gelato from a little place near our guest house. Rory went with lemon; Nora with mango, and I went for unlimited tastes of theirs. It was delicious, but not, we agreed, up to Valentino’s in Auckland. They’re still the best.

Today was our last day in Sydney (for this trip, anyway), and we finally were able to get in touch with a couple we were friends with in when we lived in Virginia. Nathan and Elissa very gamely threw their 2 kids in the car and rushed right over to hang out. No small feat considering the kids are two and one and Elissa is expecting their third. We had a great morning drinking coffee and catching up. Their daughter took a shine to Nora, insisting in a very sweet way on holding her hand everywhere we walked. Rory pushed their younger one in his stroller, and on the whole I think they both enjoyed playing the Big Kids for a morning.

This afternoon we had planned to go into Hyde Park to see the opening day of the Sydney Festival. Family-friendly performances were scheduled from 2pm on, but I found myself overcome by daily life on the road: the need to get groceries for dinner, the need to wash the few warm weather clothes we have, the need to sort through books and papers and schedules. The need to be still and move slowly in the first hot weather we’ve had in months. So now the kids are in bed, sprawled across their beds, sticky under the ceiling fan, while our wet laundry is strung up all around our heads. It’s taking forever to dry in the humidity, and I don’t mind one bit. Four nights ago I was huddled in a down sleeping bag under woolen blankets, sleeping in a hat. Now I’m in a tank top, my hair pulled up to try catch a breeze across my neck. Only two time zones but such a change.

Big Leap Forward in Space and Time

Filed under: Uncategorized — midway2go @ 4:51 pm

So here we are in Sydney. I had such high hopes, of lusciousness and sparkling  blue waters and leafy neighborhoods and friendly people, but I have to say, it got off to a slow start. We flew in under cloudy skies and got settled, with mixed feelings, into our guest house. We headed out to explore the neighborhood, Glebe, and were tickled. We’re on a street with every kind of international restaurant, from Mexican (a real exotic and expensive treat here) to Spanish tapas to Indian take-out to Turkish with belly-dancing. We ended up at a Lebanese place, where we put ourselves in the hands of the owner. Plate after plate of yummy food arrived at our table. I can say without hesitation that it was the best babaganouj I’ve ever had. Yum. She even made us grain-free tabouleh. We had a plate of homemade pickles, everything from peppers to olives to small eggplants stuffed with nuts. Unbelievable. There was hummus, falafel, lentils and rice. It was our kind of food, just what I would cook if I had the resources. We ate until we were sore. What a feast. I could have cried.

Fortified by good food and good company (each other, of course!) we braved the local shopping center. Ugh. An enclosed mall with a massive parking lot, maybe 6 stories, that let’s you know that even in this metropolitan city with great bus service this is a land devoted to the individual in a car. Very much like America, and not the thing about home I miss. Inside we found K-Mart, Target, and four floors of stores. We were on the hunt for Coles, a supermarket, to provision ourselves to use the kitchen back at the guesthouse. Well, we could have been in the States, only with higher prices. The grocery store was huge and shiny, with a whole aisle of breakfast cereal (although maybe not as junky as ours and with lots more muesli to choose from). The seafood department maybe felt like the Australia of legend, with huge shrimp and piles of whole red snapper and sardines and what looked like mini-swordfish.

 We left with two sacks of good gluten and dairy free food, but feeling discontent and vaguely empty. I was hoping we wouldn’t have to go back. Well, no such luck. The thing is, those big mall places are so durn useful. All those services and goods under one roof.

The very next morning we were back, looking for a sim card for our cell phone. I tried to get one in a few different small shops, but each one told me to try K-Mart or Target. Back into Retail Hell we went, to three different stores before we got what we needed. By then I was ill as a hornet and the kids were pinching and pushing and yelling and basically desperate for a playground. We stumbled onto a great one, and they burned off tons of energy while I called my mom and consulted a map.

 Ten minutes later we came upon Darling Harbour. Now, by the sound of it, you’d expect charming shops and sailboats floating gently on the water. Something cute. Charming.   In fact the harbour is named after a government man from days gone by, and many things in Sydney (and maybe all across Australia) are billed as “Darling.” We’ll just see about that. Back to the harbour… it was not darling but it was action packed. It’s completely given over to keeping tourists happy, with museums and animal shows and street performers and a circus tent set up, flags flying, and a couple of great playgrounds. We played on another playground (more about that later) and then headed for the Maritime Museum. They had an exhibit on Mythical Creatures, and no way were we going to miss that. We saw models of the Kracken and Rocs and read about the cultural differences between Asian and European dragons and the deeper significance of mermaids. We even caught part of a Indonesian shadow puppet show. And did I mention it was all free? We were pretty jazzed to go aboard an almost exact replica of Captain Cook’s Endeavor, except for the tiny matter of the engine required by modern regulation. Built in the last 15 years it has sailed the world in Cook’s footsteps. And did I mention it would have been more than $40 to go aboard? We just looked from the dock and asked the informative volunteer lots of questions. Oh, well.

We purposely took a ferry from Darling Harbour to Circular Quay to get a great view of the Opera House, only to find that rather than being sparkling white, crisply standing on the brink of the glittery sea, it was creamy and soft nestled against dull water. Lots of water, but, still… Our ferry stopped off at Luna Park, an amusement park catty-corner across water to the Opera House, almost tucked under the Harbour Bridge. It’s entrance is the mouth of a giant laughing head with chipped teeth. Manic and creepy, but really enticing. We could hear the screams from the rickety-looking roller-coaster riders and bells and clangs from who-knows-what. It was pretty inviting. Now, I don’t know why we didn’t go. Oh, well. Next time.

 So much of my hopes for Sydney hinged on sunshine – bright, hot, cornea-dulling sunshine. What we had instead was cloudiness that threatened rain but delivered sunburn. Even the photos look dull and muggy. But I’d forgotten what warm, humid weather feels like, how your skin feels like it’s breathing, how little hairs stick to your neck and temples. It is wonderful. So nice to be hot again, even by a sun you can’t see for clouds.

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