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Not Bad!

Not Bad!

After a short recovery and a few extra days rest in Melbourne, Matt, my current travel cohort and partner-in-crime, and I decided it was time to head to Sydney.   Although cheap domestic flights beckoned us, we felt the call of the road and rented a car instead.  What a great idea!  An ugly, but zippy little compact we dubbed Glow Bug transported us eastward.

The trip across Victoria was complemented by good coffee and fantastic conversation.   What better way to share stories and laughs than with the open road spread out before you?  Having always been a big fan of road trips, I simply love facing outward, in the same direction, with my travel companion(s).  Listening to great tunes just sweetens the deal. 

On this day It was sunny, and although it takes the better part of an hour to actually leave the sprawling suburbs of the city, we were greeted by beautiful, bright rolling hills (they call them mountains here).

Our next few days would consist of casually driving through impressive scenery dotted with forest, ocean, rivers, and hills (mountain ranges?!?).  We explored little fishing villages along the coast and made various attempts at catching dinner along the way.  The fish we caught were too big to take in the small compact so we settled with eating at pubs and joined the locals in their favourite past-time (Eden, a small town along the border in NSW, claims to be “a drinking town with a fishing problem”).  

Old Tom - The Amazing Killer whale of Twofold Bay

Old Tom - The Amazing Killer whale of Twofold Bay

We gasped in the beauty of Lakes Entrance, a small town tucked into the east corner of the state of Victoria.  In Eden, farther north over the border, we sought out the Killer Whale Museum (and aforementioned pub).  It was here we got the chance to see Old Tom, the famous Orca that used to assist the whalers in Twofold Bay in their hunt for baleen whales.  He would herd the baleens into the bay and lead the whalers to the catch.  If the whalers proved too slow, he would actually grasp the ropes of the whaling boat and tug them!  After Old Tom passed away, the orcas never returned and soon the whaling industry collapsed.  A great story and local legend.

Eden, NSW

Eden, NSW

In Bermagui, probably my favourite stop on this part of my journey, we spent the entire afternoon fishing (I was more of a support network: singing loudly, if intermittently, to attract fish – and keeping an eye on the fairy penguins as they efficiently stole our catch from around the break-water).   

There is a place I get to when I’m traveling extensively for any amount of time.  I inherently recognize this place, and the timing can seem quite random, but it’s at this pinnacle moment that I actually see myself as a Traveler

In the UK, back in ’99 this moment came about very quickly.  I knew I had a year abroad; I was a Traveler from the moment I received my visa.  It was reaffirmed when, mere hours after we landed in Glasgow, as we were getting ready to go to bed – a bunch of mad Dutchmen swung into the hostel and stole us away to a rocking seventies club.  We danced all night (assisted by the ever-so-helpful jet-lag and a wee pint or two).  The next day we caught a ride with our new friends to Edinburgh.  We would end up living the better part of six months over the following year there. 

It was one of the most relaxed times in my life…I was living each moment by the seat of my pants (albeit in tandem with my friend Racheal, whom I was attached to at the hip).  We settled for a while in Edinburgh, but really, I (or we, at the time) could have picked up at any moment and, on a whim, made our way to Spain or Finland or India, had we the funds.

Maybe it was easy to see myself as a Traveler right away back then because I didn’t feel I was leaving much behind.  At nineteen I had my job, school, and a haphazard social life, but I was very much ready for crazy change.  I knew I would find it as soon as I hopped on the plane. 

The Wombat is Smiling!

The Wombat is Smiling!

On this trip in Australia, with so much of a life left behind (or put on hold at least), I realized this pinnacle moment as I sat in the car on a road trip through the beautiful countryside of NSW.  With a like-minded friend beside me, we watched the scenery pass and we smiled.  It was a moment shared, yet also something very private.  I knew – I felt in my soul, that I was not a vacationer or a guest anymore; I was a self-defined Traveler.

I realized I had survived, have survived, something huge and all-encompassing.  I am coming out the other side – I can make that cumbersome hook-turn we discussed back in Melbourne –I’ve got the skills.  

I appreciate that I had the chance to see so much beauty so far off the beaten track.  The knowledge that it’s my track… I’m choosing which way to turn… this is precious.  I am strong.  I belong wherever I am.   

 Theme Songs of the Day:

Guaranteed – Eddie Vedder, from the soundtrack Into the Wild

One Crowded Hour – Auggie March, from the album Moo, You Bloody Choir

I’m Good, I’m Gone– Lykke Li, from the album Youth Novel (Alex D, this one’s for you)

Ramble On – Led Zeppelin, from the album Led Zeppelin II

Eden  - So many pelicans!

“A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings, and learn how by his own thought to derive benefit from his illnesses.”
– Hippocrates

The Dragon that greets patrons of Soul Mama, a vegetarian restaurant in Melbourne

The Dragon that greets patrons of Soul Mama, a vegetarian restaurant in Melbourne

Melbourne is in the running for one of my favourite cities in the country.  It’s beautiful and culturally-varied.  I couldn’t help but notice that people are pretty darn friendly there as well (including my hosts, who were personally responsible for me enjoying a deliciously diverse menu and eating the very best I have in months – thank you Lynch family).

Not only are the cafes and restaurants dynamic and never-ending, but the city’s hospitals ain’t so bad either.  Actually that implies I’ve seen more than one, but really, one hospital tends to fill the quota, wouldn’t you think?

I wasn’t really, seriously sick, but my kidneys had decided to let themselves be known to me.  I had to get it all sorted out by spending the night hooked up to an IV.   The medical system here is very similar to Canada, and because I was in noticeable pain they got me through administration quite quickly – and then doled out morphine with similar speed.  I felt very well taken care of (thanks morphine!) and in general I’m quite okay with hospitals; comfortable enough with how it all works and what to expect…   I know I’m an expert because I was able to get the gown on with only minimal assistance and a short question and answer period….

It was the first time I had been in any sort of medical facility since Kevin’s illness and it was emotionally hard for me.  It brought back so many memories.  Being in the fevered-pain I was in, not having all my defenses intact, it got a little tough there for a while.  As the pain slowly subsided and I knew I wouldn’t have to stay a second night, I actually started to delve into the memories of our journey through the medical system these past couple of years.   What a journey it was.

View from St. Kilda Pier

View from St. Kilda Pier

The tests and the appointments.  The chemotherapy, radiation, steroids, anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-convulsants.  The CT scans and MRIs and ECGs.  We had appointments everyday for a while there.  Ambulance rides, stretchers, wheelchairs, walkers.  We had handle bars and poles and railings, so much equipment for normal, everyday activities.   Physiotherapists, nurses, oncologists, GPs, home-care and finally hospice.    There were a minimum of six hospitals that we became all too familiar with.  We were proficient in a field that no one should even have to think about.

This is a sad trip down memory lane.  I’m sorry if it’s hard for some of you to read.  These are the thoughts that I explored while lying in that hospital bed, and when I faced some of it head-on again, it became a little easier to deal with.

There is no real pattern for this whole healing process.  At every turn I find a new way to address a feeling or thought.  It must be one of the most reflective times in my life.  Learning new, honest and organic ways to sift through my emotions is an art-form that takes time and effort.   I’m lucky to have both these beautiful surrounding, and the amazing people around me;  it makes it all a little easier.

I know that my body needed the rest (and the medicine) and when I felt well enough to be discharged I was able to head back to a very comfortable home where I was made to feel welcome and at ease.  This was invaluable, and really, if I had to be sick, I’m glad I was where I was.  A little down-time has refreshed me in new ways.

Willows Beach, April 2008

The Bedfords call this Home

The Bedfords call this Home

I know there is an absolute abundance of vivid, descriptive words that could be used to attempt an accurate portrayal of the Bedford’s property in Loongana, Tasmania. Now I just need to figure out where to start?  Wondrous, natural, fantastic?  All good, but not painting the entire picture.  I’m not sure I can do it justice, but this 70 acres of land is beautiful and worth the journey.  It’s less than an hour’s drive from Ulverstone which lies on the North shore of Tasmania, West of Launceston.    

Matt, my American-Aussie travel companion, had found the Bedford’s on Couchsurfing.org. After some correspondence with Peter, the man of the house, we had been invited to stay a couple of nights.  As we got comfortable, we knew that we would end up staying the remainder of our trip in and about the area.  What a welcoming, comfortable piece of paradise.

Matt and our host Peter looking down on Leven Canyon

Matt and our host Peter looking down on Leven Canyon

The property is more or less self-contained and self-sufficient.  The Bedfords have spent years building the property from the ground up.  A great descriptive word for this family: industrious!  A gorgeous (secret) waterfall and small river supply hydro power.  There are gardens, chickens, some miniature horses, a small lake with trout, a tree fort, and my personal favourite: the outdoor, fire heated bathtub. 

This is a real treat – you actually light a fire below the tub and must be careful to add cold water on a frequent basis in order not to be slowly simmered!  Can it get any better?  It’s cold enough for frost in the mornings, so a hot bath outside is a virtual heaven.  Even better?  Our last night there, as the hand-picked hazelnuts roasted on the bonfire, I sipped homemade honey mead in the tub, and the others stood around chatting and throwing vegetables in to make the stock perfect (mmmhhh, Jill soup? – yeah, I might not remember the night with complete accuracy, the honey mead packed a powerful punch). 

They sure are friendly in Penguin!

They sure are friendly in Penguin!

Although the entire first day was spent on the property, by the second day it was time to explore a bit further out.  A trip into Ulverstone was highlighted by a coffee at Smiley’s.  The scones and jam, and friendly atmosphere made allowance for the atrocious attempt at a Canadian accent (although I was flattered Smiley tried, and it came across in a lovely Irish lilt with ‘eh’ planted at the end of each sentence).  

Fresh fish for sushi

Fresh fish for sushi

We took the van West to a small town called Penguin on the quest for fresh fish.  Penguin is charming (sort of like Qualicum for you Vancouver Islanders) but contrary to popular belief (and logic) contains no penguins.  Oh, and no fresh fish….sigh (one might bring the other, no?).  We continued on to Burnie and our fresh-fish-success meant sushi night at the Bedfords. Yum!

The river running through the Canyon

The river running through the Canyon

Hiking through Leven Canyon, biking, late-night wildlife excursions in the Ute, eating way too much, drinking, sharing stories, just a lot of hanging out…this was the bulk of how I spent my time in Tasmania.  This is how everyone should spend their time in Tasmania! 

It’s always so nice to get off the beaten track a bit.  It feels real and wholesome and valuable.  Tasmania is a lot like home, more so than any place I’ve been so far in Australia.  I think the vague familiarity and the vast differences are intriguing and were a little unexpected.  I felt very at ease in this little state (yes, it’s approximately the size of Ireland, but it’s all relative, isn’t it?).  The landscape was inspiring, and the company was pretty great – no two-headed people to be seen… although, you know, we never did make it right around the island…

        …                                                                                              

Theme Songs of the Day:

Brainy – The National, form the album Boxer

Messages – Xavier Rudd, from the album

Gone Away From Me – Ray LaMontagne, from the album Till the Sun Turns Black

Sunset in Tasmania

Beautiful AND close to the Cadbury factory!

Beautiful AND close to the Cadbury factory!

Mainland Aussies have one of two answers when you ask them if they’ve been to Tasmania…..”Oh, yes, it’s absolutely BEAUTIFUL!!” or, alternatively: “What, why would you want to go there?”…  Let’s just say, there is a bit of a stigma associated with the state.  It’s ‘common knowledge’ that Tassies are inbred and tend to spout two heads.  Now, I’m no expert, but the Tasmanians that I met were perfectly lovely and very friendly, no extra appendages to be seen – and the state itself WAS absolutely beautiful.

We arrived in Hobart and after picking up our deluxe camper van, and made our way into the city for some food.  Research (reading the in-flight magazine on the way over) had lead us to seek out Chodra, a beautiful little tea house owned by the former basest of the Violent Femmes.  What a beautiful introduction to the least-visited-state in Australia (only 2% of visitors to the country make it over). 

We found a beautiful spot to camp and the next day the only thing that inspired us to get up was the fact that we were mere minutes from the Cadbury chocolate factory!  YUM!!  We drank hot chocolate, watched a movie and then spent $50 on chocolate….but only paid $20!!!  Wow, I LOVE Tasmania!

Cliffs at Devil's Kitchen

Cliffs at Devil's Kitchen

They look smarter when they're stuffed!

They look smarter when they're stuffed!

Although our eventual destination was the far north of the island, we decided to head south and check out Port Arthur.  The drive was awe-inspiring with valleys, and hills dotted with sheep and the odd cow (the cows weren’t all that odd, just their frequency, but, again, I’m no expert).  Port Arthur looked very interesting, but we saw it only from the parking lot.  It was cold and wet and late in the day…and a little pricy to boot.  Instead we went to check out the infamous Tassie devils.  If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing these funny little creatures, I would seriously suggest checking them out (Youtube has a couple of good clips).  They run around in a happy daze and it’s as though they forget what they’re doing every minute or so…”oh, sh!t, what was I gonna do…mmmhhh?  Maybe I’ll go this way – yeah, that’s good – oh wait…er where was I going?”  I didn’t get to see them eat, supposedly quite the site: they start spinning and get exceedingly aggressive, but I like my first impression of them:  funny and dumb; the big toothy grins complete the picture.

The next day we made the trek north.  The gently sloping hills through the heart of rural Tasmania are reminiscent of Ireland, although due to a fairly dry season they weren’t quite as emerald green.  Launceston, the second biggest city in the state, was charming and offered free internet at the library (the city takes a two-star jump when one can find access to the web…it’s a gift).  A long-time friend from Scotland was in town and we had a nice catch-up over a quick lunch.  The sun shone brightly as we continued North West and the light from the sunset gave off that flattering orange glow that makes everything clear as day but better.  We would be driving through the bush in the dark.

The colour palette of the trip: green and blue

The colour palette of the trip: green and blue

After a little detour 16km past the house, on a dirt road, we finally made it to our destination.  Luckily those extra kilometers had allowed us the chance to see possums, wombats, Tasmanian devils and a great, stoic bird called the tawny frogmouth.  Did I mention: I love Tasmania? 

Anyway, we eventually made our way to our host’s and he greeted us with a glass of wine and a smile.  We stayed up until 5am getting to know each other.  What a fascinating man – we were in for an unbelievable next few days! …

 

Theme Songs of the Day:

Putting on the Ritz – Taco, from the album After Eight

True Affection – The Blow, from the album Paper Television

Sunshine During Rain

Sunshine During Rain

Ah, the break has been good.  In slowing my writing down for a bit, I have had to adapt and learn to organize my thoughts in a different way; reassess, I guess.

I will never regret the two years that I have been writing with some sort of regularity.  I think it has saved me more often than not.  I also know it brings clarity to large portions of the past that I would otherwise see in a blur (or forget entirely).  “Oh, right – we DID go to Whistler in June…oh, yeah….THAT’S  how we spent October.”  You know, things like that…more important events and thoughts as well, but you get the idea.

I think this may be a bit of a turning point for me.  I’m not sure where exactly I’m turning from, and in which direction I’m now faced, but there’s some kind of crazy road sign associated with it, I’m sure.

Only in Melbourne

Only in Melbourne

Actually the Melbourne hook-turn comes to mind as a very suitable analogy.  Here in Melbourne there is an insane, yet perfectly legal and common maneuver whereby you pull into the far lane to make a right hand turn (keep in mind we drive on the left over here, and to turn right means to cross oncoming traffic).  So you’re driving along and realize you need to go right at the next intersection.  You must pull into the left lane, turn your blinker on and wait for a gap in traffic traveling in both directions! What!?!  You should really only attempt this crazy turn when you’re comfortable.  It feels SO strange…a little exhilarating…different…

… yeah, a good analogy I’d say.

West Coast Eagles lost!

West Coast Eagles lost!

So as one may assume, I have landed myself in Melbourne, a lovely city, indeed.  It was a sad affair to leave Perth, but I had a great last couple of days there, before heading south.  On my last night, Kim and I managed to snag Footy tickets (thanks Sean!)!  Now this is a truly Aussie passion and I can see why: a riled up crowd full of supporters for both teams, fit men running up and down a huge field…running, tackling, kicking (and that’s not including what’s happening in the stands!), over-priced-beer-drinking… Yup – they’ve got everything a good hockey game has, with the exception of ice and Luongo.

I won’t pretend to understand the rules, but it was great to watch – and the atmosphere was electric.  We made friends with the people sitting next to us and managed to make our way to the club bar for a celebratory pint or two.  Good times!

A View from Federation Square

A View from Federation Square

The flight to Melbourne was straight forward, and wouldn’t you know, I happen to be sharing the plane with Matt Gresham, the musician I had seen a couple of weeks earlier in the city (One of his songs was features in my ‘theme songs of the day’ last post).  We had a little chat, and I got to tell him what a great performer he is.  Good times!

I had a total of three days in Melbourne and my tour guide did the city a great service by introducing me to the wonderful cultural diversity that oozes off the pavement here.  There are so many restaurants and cafes and galleries; little nooks to get lost in.  The streets are littered with pieces of orange and red and yellow; it’s just at that point in the season where the balance has been tipped: there are more leaves on the ground than in the trees.   Everyone looks good, somewhere to go, a hurried but casual pace.   This is how I imagined it to be.

It flows upside-down...crystal clear on the bottom

It flows upside-down...crystal clear on the bottom

My tour guide, and host, Matt, is a friend I met in Hawaii many months ago.  He has recently moved back to Australia to travel around a bit and, as his family lives in Melbourne, he thought that a good place to start.  We have kept in touch and the plan is to stay in the city a few days – then we head down to Tasmania for a week of exploring.  What fun.

An adventure awaits… but then, when doesn’t it?

Theme songs of the Day:

Rose PicklesThe Custom Kings, from the album At Sea

Number One – The Custom Kings, from the album At Sea

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