Fast forward four years and Rory, Nora and I are now suburban dwellers living back in my hometown in North Carolina. Our big adventures have been less geographical and more situational. We all three started school. I graduated in May from Duke University with a degree in nursing; Rory and Nora have a few years to go. Rory loves competitive rock climbing, and Nora plays travel soccer. I start a new career as an emergency room nurse in a few weeks. But every once in a while a chance to travel comes along, and I grab it with both hands.
August 5, 2015
July 19, 2011
I’m always looking for signs. I saw this one in Greensboro at the Guilford Battleground National Park and I knew it was time. After lots of changes and cancelled plans and indecision, it was time for us to move to Hawaii.
And here we are.
December 31, 2010
Well, I’m hot on the heels of it now. We left Cornwall and turned up on the doorstep of our official residence in Britain, the home of Lucy and Thomas. I got in touch with Lucy when I came across her and Thomas on a list of RTW families. She was the only one listed then who was travelling as a single parent. We hit it off right away. Before I ever left Georgia Lucy was rooting me along, giving me great advice and honest accounts of long-term travel as an only parent. We had set our hopes on meeting in New Zealand and travelling together, but Lucy got sick and had to head home early, after a mere ten or eleven months on the road. Quite a haul. These two had set us up for success when we arrived to Europe in April, helping us find a great car through a reliable mechanic and providing us with an address to make all the paperwork go down easier. (Lucy, thank you! )
We wanted to end our trip there with Lucy and Thomas, and with Rachel and her boys, and they were there cheering when the car auction ended. Yee-haw. Selling the car was one thing. Getting rid of it was something else. The buyers were in Germany, and they offered to come get it in one week. It’s hard to believe, after all those months of being on the move and sometimes finding ourselves at loose ends, that right there at the end we didn’t have a week to spare. We offered to drive the car to their town in Germany, and from there we planned to fly out of Ramstein Air Force Base. They agreed, and we spent the rest of the afternoon getting down to bags we could manage on the train and planes, sorting out liquids and scissors and Swiss Army Knives. We were getting ready to go home.
The end was messy and exhausting. It was the kind of travel that makes travel not fun. The highlight for me was leaving Britain by boat out of Dover, finally getting to see those White Cliffs. They are cliffs. And very white. And I saw them. From there, it was downhill. Our drive took longer than expected, and we missed the last train to Landstuhl by four minutes. We stayed the night in an overpriced hotel only to catch a 5:30 am train with three connections before we caught a taxi in the rain to the Ramstein Passenger Terminal where we found we had missed five flights that morning to Charleston, South Carolina, and would most likely have to wait until the following morning to fly.
We were trying to “space-a” back to the States. That stands for “Space Available,” and basically it means hitching a ride on a military plane. We had left America in October, 2009, on a space-a flight to Spangdahlem, Germany, and the balance-in-all-things side of my brain liked that we were flying home that way, too. Of course, the cheap and thrifty part of my brain liked it even more, because space-a travel is free.
We showed up at 0420 (that’s 4:20AM) for a flight to New Jersey and by 7am we were in the air. Our flight was unlike anything I could have imagined. Going to Germany we had flown in a plane that was essentially like a passenger plane, only with grid floors and tanks underneath the seats. Oh, and the seats were rear-facing for safety. Oh, and there were no windows. Well, this plane was a cargo plane. We climbed the stairs to find cargo under nets filling a massive cave. Our seats were fold-down jumpseats that lined the wall. Any hope I had of catching up on three nights of almost no sleep were blown away with the roar of the jet engines. Despite the insulation that lined the walls the plane was freezing and loud. Crew members handed out earplugs, but, as Rory noted, it was good practice for being deaf. Even with the earplugs out and his screaming mouth pressed to my ear I could hear nothing. We read lips for the whole trip. An hour into the flight the kids fell asleep, leaning on me, and I was into the second course of a full-blown pity party when the crew chief came over and offered me a sleeping bag. Bless his heart. As soon as we reached altitude everyone popped up, folded up their seats, and spread out their sleeping bags. One woman blew up a twin size inflatable air mattress and proceeded to put sheets on it. I found some floor space, nestled into a giant military bag (easily the warmest I’ve ever used), and managed a couple of hours of sleep.
While I snoozed Rory came to life. One of the Airmen took him under his wing and showed him around the plane. The highlight was a tour of the cockpit. Rory asked every question he could think of (remember, he’s a curious child), and the pilots answered every one. Later in the trip the same crew member took Nora and I up to the cockpit, so we wouldn’t feel left out, and it was amazing. Those Airmen made some real fans that day. In flight beverage service? Nope. Reclining seats? Not a one. Movies on demand? No, only aluminum foil over the two door windows to keep out the sun. Not a single luxury or comfort, except for the extraordinary kindness of the fellow passengers and crew, and it was our favorite flight of the whole trip.
We landed in New Jersey mid-morning, rented a car, and pulled up in my parents’ driveway in North Carolina before 8pm. We were home. Our trip was over. How do we know? No one thought to take a picture.
July 23, 2010
In one good day of driving we left the heat and passion of Rome behind. We drove through Umbria, through Tuscany, up to the Lombardy region and the beautiful lakes. We only stopped for gas. We had a mission: we were on our way to visit out friends who live near Thun, in Switzerland, and we didn’t want to be late. And, to be honest, we were pretty motivated to be settled in a hotel on the other side of the Swiss border before kickoff of the World Cup game between Germany and Spain. And we made it!
I cannot convey how funny it is to drive from Italy into Switzerland. My mind cannot grasp that two such different countries can share a land border. In Italy the air is heavy and horns blow constantly. Couples on mopeds buzz like mosquitos up and down the sidewalks, and women in huge sunglasses thump themselves in the chest and fling their arms out while they talk. The sorbet is so good, and the orange juice is almost always freshly squeezed. The espresso is a small tablespoon of oily black in the depths of the cup. Heaven. Switzerland? Cool, crisp air. Stunning mountains and hiking trails connecting every valley. Highways and roads functioning perfectly, in total order. A woman in a bookshop took 15 minutes to wrap a book that cost $5 . On the streets were not only trash bins, but bins to sort recyclables about 7 different ways. Also heaven. But how can they be so different? Not only that, but for a while into Switzerland, the official language is still Italian. We headed into the San Gotthard tunnel, and all the signs were in Italian. We came out to find ourselves in a German-speaking Alpine wonderland. Bizzarre.
Rory and Nora were thrilled to be in snow-covered mountains. After 9 weeks in Spain and Italy they were no longer excited about dry hills topped with castle ruins. My exclamations from the front seat of, ‘Hey, y’all, look at that!’ were meet with increasingly dull, “Oh, yeah, wow,” just to humor me. They hardly ever glanced up anymore. Now, in Switzerland, I was the one called on to witness stunning scenery and amazing sights. I pulled over near the Susten Pass, and those two burst from the car and scampered all over the hillsides until I rounded them up again half and hour later. Nora, after our two months last summer out west in the US and Canada, was delighted to discover that some mountains come with cafes on the hillside. Hiking with stops for juice and hot tea? Now you’re talking! We drove on to our friends’ with Nora and Rory foreswearing Switzerland to be the best country in the world and Larissa and Valeria the luckiest kids to live in it.
Well, two days with Silvia and Daniel and their family didn’t change Rory and Nora’s mind one bit. We played in the shadow of flowery chalets. We swam (well, they swam- I was too cold) in a gorgeous pool at the foot of a massive mountain. Nora in particular loved their spacious, bright wood-filled house. I learned to make syrup from mint leaves (or from Holundeer leaves, if I can figure out what they are). It was great to catch up with these guys, friends from a year we all lived in Kansas when our husbands were in school together. Over long chats with Silvia I realized how much I miss the company of other women who send their husbands off and then carry on the best they can. I feel so lucky when, out of all the folks in the world and in Army circles, I meet a friend like Silvia.
Silvia and Daniel helped us plan a route into Germany that was peaceful and jaw-droppingly gorgeous. We stopped in Luzern for a couple of hours, then followed the road around the lake and headed north. Now, we’ve gone months on this trip without crossing an international border, so imagine our delight to find that in one day we were (however tangentially) in four countries. The road we were on started in Switzerland, went into Lichtenstein, cut across a little finger of Austria, and then entered Germany. How exciting is that?
January 22, 2010
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.
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 9, 2010
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.
December 19, 2009
We got off the boat not sure where we were going. I had planned to drive up to Milford Sound, in part to see it but mostly to camp along the way. I’d heard such amazing things about the drive, but with rain forecasted for days in the Fjordlands and the cold and two kids grumpy about being in the car, I decided against any long drives, no matter how beautiful.
We headed straght into the sun, into the mountains to Queenstown, where we watched people jump off a bridge 43 meters above a white water river at the original commercial bungee site. We got to see lots of jumpers but also someone who refused to jump and had to hop back onto the main bridge, her legs tied together in a massive bulky knot. Apparently that’s pretty rare. The whole bumgy-extreme sport scene is baffling to me. I guess I take enough chances that an adreneline rush seems like a bad thing to me. We spent a long time debating whether we would or would not jump. I decided I would do it, but wouldn’t want to. Nora wouldn’t do it, but Rory was pretty fired up to try it. I was thrilled to learn that the youngest jumper ever was ten and weighed almost 20 pounds more than Rory. I was spared being the mean parent twice in two days. More than anything the signs around the Bungy Center cracked me up. Favorites were the family package (2 adults and up to 2 kids), the bunging restroom lady, and a sign I couldn’t get a great photo of in the bathroom assuring users in many languages that it was perfectly acceptable to put toilet paper into the toilet and to flush it, that, in fact, the system was designed to handle the paper, and that the sanitary bin was only for sanitary products, not toilet paper. I remember so clearly coming back to the US after living in Ecuador and all my reverse culture shock came to a head one day when I sat crying on a toilet because I had no idea what to do with the paper. Ah, happy memories…
We camped in Wanaka at a totally unremarkable campground (except that it was cold). The town was beautiful and totally set up to delight and amuse its visitors, with a charming town clustered by a bright blue lake at the foot of the snow-covered southern Alps (did I mention it’s adjacent to a national park, too?) However, after a great hour on a super lake-side playground all I wanted was to make tracks, but kept having to come back to town for one thing after another- grocery store, gas, another go at a thrift shop for more blankets (it was a really cold night). We were headed to the Wild and Wonderful West Coast, and I wanted to be prepared. What I forgot to prepare was my way out of town, and I literally drove around for 50 minutes trying to get on the right road. See, it’s harder when there’s only one…
Louisa and Sean had recommended another DOC campground on the West Coast, on the coast at the foot of Fox Glacier. They were right. It was a stunning location. A row of trees and dunes separated the campground from the beach, and to the east Mount Cook dominated the sky. At 3755 meters it’s the tallest mountain in “Australasia,” a word I confess I don’t understand. It implies to me “Australia and Asia,” but that can’t be right since the HImalayas are in Asia. It must mean, “Australia and New Zealand.” Clearly I’m missing something. Anyway, the scenery was amazing, but the wind… We got there at dusk, which is the windiest time of day here (is that true everywhere? I’m going to pay more attention from now on). The wind on the beach almost went beyond wind. Nora could have blown away, but the sunset kept luring me out there. Every time I looked up the light was just a little different, and I’d run over to take yet another picture. I ended up with a slew of photos, and I can’t bring myself to delete any of them. Even though I know that they’re just cheesy sunset shots, they’re my cheesy sunset shots. I love them.
The next day Rory experienced another embittering blow. I won’t name names, but not all members of our party met the minimum age of 7 to join a guided tour going out onto Fox Glacier. I drug them very much against their wills, Rory because he wanted to be going with the group onto the ice and Nora because she didn’t want to go to see cold, windy ice at all, kicking and screaming to see the glacier. From the parking lot it’s a 2 minute walk to get a look at the glacier, then another 30-40 minutes to get pretty close to the beginning o the glacier, which technically is the end of the glacier and calle the terminal. They were pretty down about the walk, too, until we started out and found it was a terrible walk over piles of rock (technically called the moraine, or the debris-mostly rocks- pushed by the ice and then left behind when the glacier recedes) and the results of ravalanches and rockfalls. We had to cross creeks and jump over gaps. Well, the enthusiasm grew, and then they didn’t want to get in the car. The terminal (what I would casually and incorrectly call the face of the glacier) was treacherous. A huge cave showed ice of every shade of blue, and huge peaks jutted up where whole sections of ice had broken away. Leading up to the terminal we could see ice chunks that looked like bean bags sitting in the river, too big yet to float. I was thrilled that we weren’t going out on the ice for the rest of the day made myself unpopular with the kids by telling them I’d become a big believer in age limits. And I have.
Back at the campsite the sun was out. We found a sheltered spot on the beach and played for most of the afternoon. I even took off three of my four layers and soaked up some of the warmth of the black sand. When we headed back to to camp Rory and Nora played on two driftwood tree stumps for hours while I made dinner and cleaned up. One of the stumps was maybe 7 feet tall and hollow, and they loved it.
My dream of getting up to date is, alas, unfulfilled, but I’m within 5 days! Wa-hoo. Stay tuned…