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. 

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.

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