Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dub-yay

We blew through nearly 3 weeks of our tourist visa trying to get rid of much of the stuff that we had previously stored for free. We said goodbye to the whitewater kayaks, paddles, snowboards, skis, sleeping bags, a tent, a fancy camping chair, thermarests, windsurf equipment, kiteboard, etc. It was something that we put off doing because it was "free" for us to ship everything to OZ and then to store it. We also had delusions of somehow shipping all of that stuff to NZ. It is amazing what can accumulate when you have the space for it.

Over the course of a couple of days, we went from thinking that we would travel down the east coast of NSW, hugging the coast until we hit Western Australia (Dub-yay), to making a bee-line across the country to WA. One day south of Sydney, some local windsurfers warned us that the west coast can get unbearably hot in Jan/Feb, and if we wanted to get some windsurfing in, we needed to go "now". It took a good 48 hours of talking about it, and letting it sink in, before finally embracing the idea of driving for 10-days straight without any real adventuring. It would be like a windsurfer at Cape Hatteras NC telling us that we should really be in Baja, upon which we say, "okay, let's drive". Dub-yay is like another country, and most east-side Australians will never visit it in their lives. We're excited for some good ol' west coast exploration, complete with sunsets over the Indian Ocean.

The route we took is famously called the "Nullarbor" because it passes the Nullarbor Plain (Null + Arbor = No Trees = No Shade). The drive is hot, without much to do for days. On the bright side, the big sky gives way to amazing sunsets and fantastic, secluded, and sometimes cold, desert camping. The gas prices went from $1.09/L ($4.25/gal) to $1.67/L ($6.60/gal) as we drove from the east to the middle of nowhere. Now we know why people have gas containers hanging off their vehicles. We saw big kangaroos and emus crossing the road, just like the signs warned (alas, no camels or hairy-nosed wombats). Both of us have mastered the index-finger-off-your-steering-wheel wave that is customary with all passing vehicles. We're still trying to figure out what time it is. We just passed a sign saying, "Turn your clocks back 45 minutes"!!! What?! Dub-yay, it really is another country.

En Zed

Our quick trip to the south island of New Zealand (En Zed as the Aussies call it) started with a bit of a flurry at the Sydney airport. The ticket agent told us that we could not enter NZ because we did not have a valid visa to re-enter Australia. Our plan was to exit Australia on the expiration date of our visitor visa (Nov 4th) so that we could apply for a 3-month ETA (a sort of automatic electronic visa). In order to apply for an ETA, you must be out of the country. So, here we stood, with a flight to NZ in order to get an OZ visa, but NZ wouldn't let us enter without an OZ visa! Perhaps if we would have been more savvy about the potential strict visa requirements of NZ, we would have realized that this wouldn't work. We spent some time running around the Sydney airport trying to find an immigration office . We learned that the immigration office was beyond the security gates, and that we would have to go into the city if we needed an immigration office. Plan B: We decided to have another chat with the airline folks and beg for their help. Scott managed to get the 3rd JetStar employee to admit that the work-around to our dilemma was simply to purchase a 1-way ticket from NZ to USA to prove to NZ that we wouldn't stay in their country indefinitely. Apparently Air New Zealand had seen this situation many times because they were pretty quick to issue us a 1-way, fully refundable ticket. So far, this workaround has still cost us dearly because Air New Zealand hasn't issued us a refund. They require loads of documentation proving that we still aren't in NZ. You'd think the fact that we asked for the refund AT THE SYDNEY AIRPORT would be enough proof that we are no longer in NZ.

Although our trip to NZ was only 1-week, we managed to see a fair bit of the south island. Rugged mountains, glaciers, rivers, waterfalls, ocean... kinda like our sorely missed home of the great Northwest, USA. The first morning we woke up to see snow-capped mountains that had been covered in clouds on our arrival. The feeling I had was hard to describe. Mostly, I felt extremely nostalgic for for some cool (as in temperature), mountain-y type adventures. We are looking forward to braving the winter in NZ this year with our split-snowboards in tow. We are a little bit worried about the rugged and exposed conditions of the mountains, but hope that we can find something that will suit us. We just wanna rip up some powder (sans crevasses, avalanches, and ice). The winter days in NZ are also quite short, which will test our adventurous spirits while living in a van.

On our way back into OZ, we were harassed at immigration because they were suspicious of our intentions as tourists. What, most people don't go on a vacation for... ever? We assured them that we were tourists and were told that we needed to go to the immigration office in the city if we didn't want to be hassled again at immigration. Turns out, it was really easy for us to get a 6-month tourist visa (minus $500 for the "application"), so we get to stay down under until May 4th.

Big Night Outback

We made a second visit to our favorite outback pub for the authentic country atmosphere, and most importantly, the special (and strong) brew on tap. It was a 60 km round trip detour, but well worth it. While we drank our first beer, I commented on how one thing I liked about the place was that we seemed to be invisible. We certainly were the only non-locals, and yet, during our first visit, no one seemed to even notice that we existed. In retrospect, maybe we were just too looped on the brew to realize that everyone was staring at us. About 5 minutes after my comment, one of the locals came over to chat with us. This fella was originally from Sydney and he decided to move out to the sticks (did I mention there are 20 houses in the town?) to take over the family property. He left the pub around 6pm. We didn't remember his name, but when we reminisced about the night we called him "Bald Guy". Bald Guy must have opened up the flood gates because we quickly met Brad Pitt, Eyebrows, Town Drunk, and 34-year-old Grandma among others. While Bald Guy told us a story he referred to the local pub goers as "publicans". "Publicans" seems to refer to the more raucous pub goers -- the ones who stay out past 6pm.

Eyebrows made some eyeglasses out of straws and rested them on the bushes above his eyes. This was his "trick for the tourists". His comment to Scott was, "See, you're not the only one that can wear glasses". Eyebrows lives alone, got his buffet dinner to go because he doesn't like eating in public, and though we never confirmed it, he suggested that he lives in one of those ubiquitous rain water storage tanks. Eyebrows is Brad Pitt's dad. Brad came into the pub with a big hole ripped across his nipple on his flannel shirt. He was smart, witty, and told us lots of crazy stories about being a butcher. Also, he was really gorgeous (ala Brad Pitt), even though he was very rough around the edges -- kinda like Tyler Durden meets Crocodile Dundee.

During our first visit, I had noticed one of the publicans who had a deep, gnarly cut across his nose. I didn't need to bust out my nurses training to tell that this guy had all the signs of a classic drunk. Town Drunk (TD) was touched to learn that we had visited the pub before, and that I had noticed his injury. He was also very touched that I cared to ask him how he healed up. Bald Guy was TD's boss. Turns out, TD has a heart of gold and couldn't have been more kind to us. He asked us multiple times if we "got a proper feed" and if we wanted to stay at his place for the evening. We couldn't quite convince him that we'd already eaten, and that the van was probably more comfortable (most certainly cleaner). Unsatisfied with our brush-off of his invitation, he suggested we come by in the morning to see the wild Kookaburras that he had befriended. Turns out, he feeds them with his left over butcher meat, and in return, he can pet them. Everyone we met had some sort of a part in raising and/or butchering meat.

Later in the night, 34-year-old Grandma chatted with us a bit. During the conversation, it came out that her 19 year old daughter was "on her second child". Sitting next to her were her other two boys -- one was 15 and the other was 8.

Most of the folks we met were shocked to learn that we had visited the pub before and yet came back. Apparently they don't get many repeat, non-local customers. When we left the pub, we just couldn't stop smiling. The night had been even more fun than the first time. The locals were genuine, kind, and hilarious. The stories they told us kept us laughing for weeks. They truly live in a different world, not one we'd want to live in, but a great place to visit.

Carma is going to get you

by Scott

It's a long story, but some of you may have heard about how I ran over a homeless guy with my car back when I was at Stanford. OK, I didn't really run him over. I just pinned him between the bumper of my car and the car in front of me...at least, until that car decided to bolt through the red light.

Here's the short version. My backpack was stolen out of my car while I was at a concert in San Francisco. When I discovered the broken window and missing pack, I went looking for a phone. In my irrational rage, I befriended a homeless guy named Cliff. He convinced me to drive him around SF so that he could show me the pawn shops where I would likely find the computer that was in my pack. Along the way, I saw another homeless guy walking down the sidewalk with my backpack! I pulled a U-turn, and he started running. when he tried to cross between me and the car in front of me, I pinned him between our bumpers. After getting my empty pack back, I drove both him and Cliff around the block to retrieve some of the contents that had been dumped. In the process, I soon discovered that I blew out my brake lines to avoid amputating the man's legs. Fortunately, I had a stick shift and a functional emergency brake. After getting my calculater and day planner back, I calmed down and offered to drive the limping homeless guy to the police station if he wanted to press charges. He declined, being far more interested in a $20 bill than talking to the police. The story continues with another brake-less trip to SF to meet with Cliff to retrieve some books, a not-quite-stealthy attempt on my part to stake out the SF thieves' market, and an unsuccessful police raid on an empty warehouse. I never got the computer back.

Fast forward 15 years for the carma. We were getting our kite fixed at a shop in a small strip mall with a small parking lot--maybe 12 spots. As people do in Oz, we parked in the only shade we could find, which happened to be at the end of the lot, in front of the Lissa Rosa Italian restaurant. We decided to walk to get groceries while the kite was getting fixed. As we were walking, the owner of an adjacent business warned us that the restaurant owner parks in our spot. There were no signs, and I noticed that the restaurant didn't open until 11am, so we left the van, and I told her we'd be back before it even opened.

As we returned, just before 11am, a woman in a Toyota Camry started yelling at us, "why did you park there?!" It was Lissa Rosa, and she was pissed. Heather offered to move the van, but Lissa kept at it, telling me that she pays for those parking spots. I told her that since she pays for those parking spots she should pay for a f*#@ing sign saying so. That pushed her over the edge. In her haste to box us in with her car, she hit me and knocked me to the ground. I got up and slapped back her side mirror. At that point, she got out of her car, took her keys with her, and said she was calling the police. For what, we weren't sure. Probably not to report herself for vehicular assault.

When she returned to inform us that the police were coming, we once again offered to move the van, but she wouldn't let us out. Even the owner of the adjacent business tried to reason with her, telling her to just move her car, but no. She kept badgering us about parking in her unsigned spot and claiming that I said f*@# you, when I did not. Getting nowhere, we walked a few doors down to check on the status of the kite. He had just finished, and while we were paying, the police arrived to ask if anyone was the owner of the white van. We said yes, and they asked if we were ready to leave. Again, we said yes, and that was it. The police told Lissa to move her car and she did. She was still talking to the police as we drove off smiling and waving. I'd like to think she got charged with something--vehicular assault? unlawful detention?--but probably not. In any case, watch out Lissa Rosa of South Tweed Heads NSW. It may take 15 years, but carma is going to get you.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Open House

We don't live on the Street of Dreams, but we do live on our street of dreams. We often joke about the "things we do to maintain our lifestyle". Some of the sacrifices we've made include living in a steel box, taking cold showers, frequenting public restrooms, using laundromats or a sink, and drinking cheap wine. One of the payoffs is gorgeous views like the sunrise from our bed this morning:

We put together some really short videos of our steel box living situation in case you wondered how 2 adults can live out of a minivan -- at least it's a long wheelbase minivan.

THE EXTERIOR (14MB video):

video

THE INTERIOR (24MB video):

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Friday, September 4, 2009

August of our Lives

Our theme for August seemed to be centered on jumping (or swinging/sliding) into freshwater swimming holes in the tropical north Queensland area. This area has 2 seasons -- wet and dry. We are visiting during the dry season, but are reaping the benefits of the plethora of rivers, creeks, and streams carved during the wet season. The water is not warm. In fact, it is quite cold, but I have gained an appreciation for cold-water swimming. It feels so refreshing to jump into freezing cold water and then warm yourself in the sun or with a towel. The air temperatures are starting to rise so much that I've even started to *enjoy* a cold shower. The grand finale of our waterfall tour was swimming in the pool at the bottom of Wallaman Falls, an 800 foot single-drop waterfall with a 60-foot deep pool. From the edge of the pool, the waterfall looked like a mist but when we swam near it, the wind and water resembled the worst rain storm you've ever experienced. We certainly couldn't get close to the "center" of the falls.

We spent the end of July saying, "Damn, we need to get farther north". It was cold and rainy and the days were very short. We got north pretty quickly and encountered perfect day and night time temperatures. In fact, we didn't see a drop of rain for a month!

We've spent the last few (very hot) days of August saying, "Damn, we need to get south!". An issue we have with the tropical north is that there are so many biting bugs. You can't see the bugs until they bite you, and still, you have to look really closely to distinguish them from the small freckles on your skin. It's very unsatisfying to kill these biters after they have had their way with you. Scott more than I, is very allergic to the "biters". We call them "biters" but the Aussies call them "midgies". They can get through the finest mesh screen so on a hot night, with a fine mesh screen between the less hot air and our bed, we're easy prey. In fact, today, I couldn't find a square inch of skin on Scott's body that didn't have a bug bite. We are starting to be much more liberal with the bug spray, DEET be damned.

One of the many great things about traveling in a van without much of a plan is that any plan can change overnight. Until August our back-of-the-envelope plan had been to drive north from Sydney, then head west across the northern section of the country (the outback), then head south along the entire west coast, then head back east in order to get to Sydney all within 3 months (due to visa requirements). This turned out to be way more than we could swallow after we did some mileage and gas calculations. We were talkin' an extra 7000 miles during 3 months that we could easily just put off until we came back from our visa "leave". Not to mention, that gas currently costs $5 per gallon. So... we are thoroughly exploring the east coast for the next 2 months and then we will head south then west during the summer months -- Tasmania hear we come!

Speaking of visas... We had originally thought we could get a 1-year tourist visa when we applied in May, 2009. Unfortunately we were only granted a 6 month visa, so we have to exit the country by Nov. 4th. I've purchase tickets to the south island of New Zealand for a quick 1-week "exit" so that we can come back to OZ to finish our adventuring in 2009/2010. The requirements are such that we can come back into the country on a short tourist visa that will allow us to stay up to 3 months at a time over a 12-month period.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Swingers

It is most appropriate to follow our previous blog with another entry related to Scott busting his ass while swinging. This time it was a rope, not a vine. The pictures prove that we had many successful swings on this rope. The one swing I decided to document with video, ended with Scott careening into knee deep water. You will notice in the video, that the sun caused a glare just as I followed him over the water. The only indication to me that he broke his swinging implement, was that the splash happened way before I had expected. It turns out that the rope only slipped a couple of feet and didn't actually completely break. Luckily there were no injuries. This seems to be the advantage of swinging over water, rather than rainforests. Video below:

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

George of the Jungle Needs Universal Health Care

by Scott

I can't really blame a cartoon for my penchant for swinging on vines, though I did watch a lot of George of the Jungle when I was a kid. I also used to swing on a vine over the ravine in the woods behind our house in Indiana. That ended when one of the neighbor kids fell 15 feet and broke his arm. His dad then chopped down the vine. In any case, here I am thinking about turning 40 someday, and I still can't pass by a vine without taking it for a swing.

Lucky for me, the rain forests of Australia are littered with vines. Not so lucky for me, not all of them are swing worthy. In the Eungella rain forest in Queensland, there was a vine hanging directly over the path, just out of my reach. However, if I jumped, I could bat it uphill, run up the hillside, and hold onto a small tree until it swung back. I gave it a good tug to make sure it was stable, and then swung out over the trail. I was cautious on the first attempt, but started pushing it on the next couple swings. Heather captured this picture, but it's hard to tell that I'm a good 12 feet above the rocky ground.

Not wanting to miss out on all the fun, Heather took a couple swings. I tried to take pictures, but they didn't turn out very well. We decided to try video. Bad idea. I decided to go big. As you can see in the video, I went big, but not in the manner I intended. The vine immediately started coming down, but like a good captain, I went down with the ship, never releasing my death grip on the vine. Watch as my head bounces off the edge of the trail.
video
Don't hold back your laughter. Heather didn't. She did stop the video, but after I recited all known curse words, she started laughing hysterically. I didn't immediately get the joke, but after realizing I wasn't too hurt, I saw the humor...and saw it over and over again in the video. Since the damage to my head was all internal, you can only see the damage to my back.

While this is primarily a comedy, there is a moral to the story. Australia has public health care for all, and private health care for those that want it. Heather worked in both the public and private hospitals. Someday, we will return to the United States, and I really, really need universal health care. I could go the employer provided route, but that means employment, which means work, or pretending to work. Both cut into my vine swinging time. The other route is private insurance, but seriously, what for-profit company is going to sign up to cover me? I need a public option. After all, your own private nurse can only do so much, especially when she's laughing.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rust, Rain, and Dolphins

I had to take a look at our pictures from the start of June to remind myself of what we were doing 2 months ago. We endured quite a bit of rain during June, which is supposed to be one of the dryer months in NSW. The worst floods in 30 years occurred approximately 2 weeks after the other record breaking storm. This storm was unique from the other because it came out of the east, causing massive waves that tore up the coastline. Shipwrecks that had never been discovered were uncovered. The rain caused a few problems for us, most notably very rusty bike components. We are now equipped with removable chains in an effort to mitigate the rust attack.

Despite the rain and cold, we had one of the most exciting days surfing on our new shortboards. This experience was exceptional mostly because we were completely alone on a gorgeous beach, with a pod of at least 30 dolphins. They seemed to be toying with us as they lifted their dorsal fins above the water only inches away, then quickly disappeared into the murky storm-stained ocean. We had to guess where they might pop up next. Dolphins compete with sharks for food, and are also known to ram into them with their heads to keep them away. This thought is awfully comforting when you are surfing with dolphins. We've also officially graduated to surfing on shortboards. Although we are proud of our progress in surfing, I usually always feel like the biggest goompa on the water. I can't say that I've had any ripping surf days yet on my new board.

We were also treated to our first of many whale sightings along the NSW coast. For about 2 weeks, we could look out into the ocean and always see a Humpback whale breaching (coming completely out of the water and landing on it's back). Even from very far away, it's an awesome sight. We met many Aussies who had never seen a breaching whale. At first, we were appalled that people who live in coastal cities/towns hadn't seen something that we saw many times a day. We realized that it was probably because they're indoors, working during the day when you can actually see the whales (not to mention the daylight hours are quite short during the migration months).

One of the more unique things we saw was a cave full of "glowworms". We visited the cave at night and found it completely filled with bright blue stars. The glowworms are actually larvae of a flying insect that glow to attract prey into their sticky, silk snare lines that hang from the cave ceiling. The glowworms spend most of their lives as larvae. Once they become an adult fly, they don't feed, and only live long enough to reproduce. Cool!

We made it to the northern border of NSW before turning back south for Sydney in order to catch a flight. During one of our nights, we had another mouse episode in the van. It turned out that in fact the mouse was not IN the van and that it probably wasn't even a mouse. We still don't know what it was, but the teeth marks on my flip-flops look a little bigger than the mice we've seen. Your guess is as good as ours as to what chomped the hell out of my flip-flops (I had left them on the ground outside of the van). Check out the remains in the picture to the left.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Leeches, Bandicoots, and Flooding

Wednesday started pretty mellow, with a morning walk and workout in Nambucca Heads. This coastal town is nice and even quite scenic during stormy weather. We decided to head inland to the rain forests of Dorrigo, a World Heritage listed National Park since the weather was forecasted to be incredibly stormy for the next 4-5 days. As the day progressed, so did the intensity of the rain. We managed to get a couple of hikes in, and found our first hike to be an amazing display of vines and massive rain forest trees. We also discovered our disdain for leeches. During our second hike, we stopped at our destination (a large waterfall) and noticed the small leeches all over our clothes. I made the mistake of taking my shoes off to get rid of the leeches only to discover more attaching to my clothes, socks, shoes, etc. These leeches are much smaller than the "Stand By Me" ones, so they can burrow through holes in shoes/clothing much easier. The one shoe I took off had at least 10 small leeches inside. I had 2 pairs of socks on so I decided to "let it be" and get the hell back to the van. When we returned to the van, we discovered only one of our headlamps had enough juice. With one small LED headlamp, we de-clothed and de-leeched in a massive wood/stone picnic shelter while the storm raged around us. A small leech had burrowed through 2 pairs of socks and I had a small bleeding wound for hours. As the rain continued to pound, I cooked dinner in the shelter on our stove and Scott built a fire. Since we only had one headlamp, the entire process was a bit belabored and dim. After I chopped into a big butternut squash, I left it on the picnic table as I stepped away from the stove. When I stepped back to the stove, a large marsupial face was there to greet me in the dim light of the headlamp that Scott was wearing. Of course I over-reacted and ran away, while Scott grabbed his weapon -- our dinner plates. After he told me it was a bandicoot, I came back to check it out. We thought he would run away but he grabbed our butternut! I screamed "HEY!" and as he turned his back to us, Scott slapped his bum with our dinner plates and he went soaring off the picnic table.

The heavy rain continued all night. Being in the van was like being in a Jiffy popper. Luckily, we had earplugs. In the morning, we half-joked that we may not make it out of the park since they were predicting major floods. We made it out, but not without a big leech attaching to the top of Scott's foot after he had stepped out of the van for a few moments in the morning. I have to admit, it's kinda fun to put a little salt on the leech and see it detach (as long as it's not attached to me).

Skipping the morning coffee routine, we drove along the 10km dirt road through dense and gorgeous rainforest in the pounding rain. After some rough spots in the road, Scott happened to look out his window enough to see that the roof rack with 2 surfboards and a FULL rocketbox, had come completely off and was just resting on the van roof. OMG, this could have been horrible, but the only casualties were a few dents in the roof and Scott's very wet clothing.

The longer we drove, the more we realized that flooding was a very real possibility and that we needed to get out of the bush and into a town as quick as possible. As we drove down the mountain, two waterfalls that had been small the day before were now raging out of control. Both of them were pouring water onto the roadway but not enough to prevent us from driving past them. After we arrived into the valley, we learned that the waterfall was over the road. We had narrowly escaped being marooned in a small mountain town for days.

We are 2 days into the flooding and it is the worst they've seen in 30 years--over 8 inches of rain in 24 hours with more on the way! We are trying to ride the storm out in Coffs Harbour, a town of around 60,000 (much bigger than anything we've come across in the past month) -- I don't know how long I can do the library-aquatic center-shopping mall-laundromat routine!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Pub With No Beer

It is very rare that things exceed our expectations -- mostly because we are a pair of cynical and jaded folks. Last night was quite the exception. After an epic, bordering on ridiculous, bike ride up to a 2700 ft peak (that surprisingly included 2 other 2000+ ft peaks), we decided that we should drive the extra 15 km to a pub in the middle of nowhere that seemed to have the potential to be a tourist trap. The "Pub With No Beer" is famous for the Slim Dusty song of the same name (Slim Dusty is like the Elvis of Australia). There was a bit of advertising hype about the pub on the information center map, and our Lonely Planet guide seemed to hint that it was a shameless tourist trap. They were wrong!! Or, maybe it's just different on an off-season Friday night.

This place is located in a "town" with a population of 50 in the middle of nowhere. It has it's own brewery (Murray Brewery), a beer can museum in a restored church, and the locals on a Friday night are the best entertainment you can find. Besides that, the Murray Cru is the best Australian beer we've had. It's 8.8% ABV, which is quite heavy for an Australian beer. Before offering the beer to us, the bartender asked us if we were staying for the night. We told her we had our van and weren't sure where we were going to park. She told us we could stay "here" (meaning the parking lot, I assume) and told us about the showers attached to the large deck (too bad we already showered in the bush with bottles of water!). After ordering a few of these beers, the next bartender asked us who would be driving. This seems a common concern here in Australia, where the legal driving limit is 0.05 BAC. After I told him we were staying in our van, he gave me another.

The main reason we decided to go the pub in the first place is because we wanted a massive supply of potato wedges after our biking. We ordered the wedges, but had to wait 30 minutes for the kitchen to open. The "cook" came out to tell us that they were out of sour cream. This was a travesty! Quintessentially Australian, sour cream and sweet chili is the only way Scott will eat his wedges now. Lucky for us, we had some just-purchased, late-date sour cream in the cooler. Things got even better when we ordered our 5th beer and found out it was happy hour...$3.50 schooners!!!...unheard of in Australia, so we had a 6th and called it a night in the parking lot of The Pub With No Beer.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Random 1-month van livin' news

It's been about a month since we started our van living. Things started a little rough with a week of rain. I've always said that living in a van is fantastic unless it is raining for an extended period. Nothing dries, you can't hangout outside, and the condensation on the inside of the van in the morning is gross. We've got things pretty dialed now. We absolutely love the public facilities and off-road areas where we can camp. Speaking of those public facilities, we just discovered a massive covered pavillion in Crescent Head, NSW that has power hookups, free electric BBQs, and shelter from the common evening squalls. All of these things are what people pay $40/night for in the campgrounds, but it's free if you look around the corner.

We are doing a lot of surfing and biking and have so far decided that Crescent Head is the best place for us to hone our surfing skills. We've been here over a week and despite leaving yesterday, we found ourselves back here again. We still haven't left our state of NSW. The days are short (sunset around 5 pm) and it's not very warm (70 degrees) so it would behoove us to drive way farther north. New South Wales has some amazing coastline and scenery so we have decided that the short days and cooler weather are worth it.

A couple of weeks ago we learned that the $480 that we spent requesting a 1-year tourist visa, was denied. We were informed that 1-year tourist visas are rare and require "compelling and compassionate" applications. What the hell does that mean? We were given a 6-month visa and have to leave the country before we can get another entry (November). I guess we will have to spend our money elsewhere Australia! New Zealand, Bali, Thailand?

A couple of weeks ago we parked close to a river off a dirt road in the bush. We usually have a window and our sliding door open with mosquito netting during the night. We woke in the middle of the night to rustling of a plastic bag. Scott woke me up and I told him it was "just the wind". Sure enough, it WAS something in the van. For a while I was curled in a ball afraid to look out from under the covers as I was sure it was a goanna (big ass lizard) or a snake. Turns out, it was a mouse who was very interested in our tomatoes. The next day we set an elaborate trap with a cantilever over a big container of water. We headed out on a long bike ride and when we came back to the van we hoped to find a plump mouse floating in the bucket. The trap was never tripped and we never heard the mouse again -- smart little thing escaped.

Including our friendship with the local mice, we have had some great run-ins with lots of kangaroos and large birds of prey. There are some albatross-like birds that feed while we surf and I have managed to hit one of them while surfing. In fact, today, the bird got run over by the wave and as I tried to stand up on the wave, he rolled over my board! I don't imagine I'm the first to hit one of these guys since they seem quite nonchalant about humans, surfboards, and waves.

The latest P-I-the-A is our main computer must have a crack in the keyboard electronics board because we have lost both the "h" and the "g" key. The password to login included a "g" so we had to beg the local cafe to use their USB keyboard in order to login to the computer. I've managed to remap the keys to other rarely used keys but I'm sure we will be losing t, y, b, n soon. Time to shop for a new laptop and backup our pictures.

We have mastered the art of cooking all our yummy meals on a hotplate BBQ -- since these are free and readily available throughout the parks. Thin crust pizza and portobello mushroom sandwiches are our latest craze. Whenever we are near grocery stores we stock up on supplies for these all-time favorite meals.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Karma

I’m sitting watching the sunset on Toowoon Bay and listening to Scott work through a new song he has written. We’ve managed to exit our working life in Sydney and start our trip around OZ. Things started to get really hectic about 2 weeks ago when Scott managed to get all of his instruments (FINALLY) onto eBay. The good thing about this is that we got rid of the major bulk of our belongings but of course, this was quite painful for Scott. Despite being extremely non-materialistic (is that a word?), he is the first to admit that his instruments mean the world to him. The skin on our fingers were raw and peeling from so much packing tape. We are still carrying around a few items in the van waiting for people to pay us so that we can mail the damn things!

The night before we had to exit our apartment, we realized we were scheduled to exit on the Sunday (by 10 am) of a 4-day weekend that included Easter Monday. One thing we’ve learned about Australians is that they take their weekends and holidays very seriously. We couldn’t resist the urge to stay in our apartment one more day as we KNEW no one would be stopping by to make sure we had left. I did try to email the rental guy to ask if we could stay a couple more days but he never got back to me. True to form, no one stopped by and we managed to stay one more night in the apartment. We had everything moved out of the apartment except for our toothbrushes and a few food items. Karma was working hard against us though. Around 8pm on Sunday (the night we were not supposed to be in the apartment), both of us left the apartment together to get something from the van. We came back to the apartment only to realize we had locked ourselves out. This is serious bidness since we couldn’t really call the rental agency to ask them if they had an extra key, without a really good story about why we were still in the apartment. After a few expletives and many natural bursts of adrenaline, I suggested that maybe we ask our neighbors if I could try and climb around the brick wall between our balconies. Scott was very skeptical and our bewildered neighbor (who didn’t speak much English) managed to mutter the word “d a n g e r o u s”. I was determined. It turned out that it was quite easy to scale the wall because my foot had a nice 6-inch ledge. Did I mention the apartment was on the 8th floor?

We were lucky enough to have our building manager (thank you Wayne) hook us up with some free storage in our old apartment building. Unlucky for us, it was in the garbage compactor room and the smell will surely permeate EVERYTHING we store. We tried to put plastic bags over everything we expected to eventually want in our van but I somehow doubt this will keep the smell out.

We’ve been living in the van for a week and we’ve only managed to get about 120 miles north of Sydney. At this rate, we’ll get around the perimeter of OZ sometime in 2012. Although the weather is starting to get a bit chilly (high of 70 degrees), we are still having so much fun exploring the areas close to the place we called home for a year. We have spent lots of time actively adventuring as well as some well-needed time in the basements of our brain (gotta credit that phrase to The National). Bedtime = 9pm and wakeup = 6:30am. Perfect.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Off The Grid

I think I have to thank my friend Dan for suggesting the title of this blog. I've been extremely remiss in writing anything on this blog for the past 3 months and in an effort to be inspired, I asked Dan what the topic of my next blog post should be -- he suggested "Off The Grid". According to wikipedia: "The term off the grid or off-grid refers to living in a self-sufficient manner without reliance on one or more public utilities". So much has happened in the past few months that it has been hard for me to capture anything properly in a succinct blog post.

We were informed sometime in January that the owners of our apartment wanted it back and would like us to vacate by March 15th. Despite our polite request to extend this date, we were given no mercy. Instead of trying to find another place to call home, we decided that maybe we should start our off-the-grid living sooner rather than later. It actually didn't require much debate on our part to decide that we would start our Oz van tour about a month after we would have to leave our original apartment. Since our eviction, we've moved into a furnished apartment until April 12th, afterwhich we will officially be off-the-grid (but still online!). My parents visited for 2 weeks in Feb/March which turned out to be loads of fun. It is so fun to be a tourist in the Sydney area. Scott and I took almost 2 weeks off to spend time touring around the area with Mom and Dad Matthews -- pics are here!

Since we were fortunate enough to move a large part of our "stuff" here on a sea-container, we have had so much "stuff" to get rid of! I have always been very proud of our simple-living until I realized that we actually have sooooo much stuff. For the past month we have been trying to sell, sort, and give away almost everything we own. The pictures to the left are from our 24 hours of packing and moving from our former apartmant to our new 1-month apartment (I think we logged at least 5 FULL elevator rides). If feels so good to literally get down to only a few items of clothing and a few pairs of shoes!

So what is the plan? We plan to apply for a 1-year visitor visa that we can tack onto our current work visa. We will take a year to tour this massive country and visit as many things as we can. Our tentative plan is to go around the perimeter of Oz rather than cutting across it in any form. I've found the 2 most common questions are, "Then what?" or, "For how long?". During these odd economic times, I find it hard to convince anyone that living off-the-grid is our plan foreva. Instead of trying to convince or explain why/how we will travel and semi-retire until we're cripple, my typical response to "then what", is "I don't know" (maybe we'll explain it all in a book someday!). I DO know that we will not return to any life that involves a 9-to-5 job. There's too much to do and see in this world for us to spend our days working. I'm not opposed to working and/or making money but at this stage in our life and financial situation, we really don't plan on doing it very much. Both of us feel it is important to take these days of health and energy to do what we love and to raise our spiritual wellbeing.

I soon hope to have more time and energy to write some blog posts about our adventures. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Love letter to Australia

Scott and I just got done with a fantastic 2 week van adventure south of Sydney. We had some revelations during our fun times. We realized that for a country the physical size of the United States but the population of Ohio, it has an amazing infrastructure of roads and facilities. By facilities, I mean outdoor showers, picnic tables, and electric grills at almost every beach and park. We traveled only 120 miles south of our home and found amazing scenery and numerous state and national parks. This country does an amazing job of preserving nature and ensuring green space is available everywhere (probably the advantage of such a low population!). I can't say more about the gorgeous and diverse beaches as well (and we've only seen 1/100th of the coast!!!)

On Christmas day, we road biked to the Mxxxxxxxxa Rain Forest in Bxxxxxxo National Park. A few miles from the park, at the turnoff, there was a sign saying the park was closed. We continued on. How do you close a national park, much less, a rain forest? About a mile later, we passed a group of people who had parked their cars along the road, and were having a picnic in the ditch. They called out to us that the park was closed. We continued on. Sure enough, we got to the entrance, and the gate was locked…open every day but Christmas. There was a sign saying the area was under 24-hour surveillance, but we climbed over the gate and passed over the bicycles. We had the whole park to ourselves. Even better, the whole trail system was built on platforms, so we actually got to road bike through the rain forest…probably the only people in the world who've done that. Had we been caught, I'm sure the fine would have been thousands of dollars, but we escaped unscathed…except for a leach that attached himself to the back of Scott's leg. The leach let go after I coated him in the remnants of our mixed salted nuts.

We managed to explore some amazing beaches and find some lovely camping spots to park the van (fo' free!). One of our favorite ones (pictured here) was at the boat ramp in Gerringong where we were able to sleep right next to the breaking surf and wake up to an amazing view from the van. One morning we decided to hike up the ridge above the van. The view was fantastic but in order to get to the view we had to pass under an electric fence that, much to my surprise was ACTIVE! Scott, the Indiana farm boy, didn't seem phased by me getting electrocuted , but I was very freaked. It took my breath away -- I wonder if that's what it's like to get tazered?

Another highlight was snorkeling at Jervis Bay, about 3 hours south of Sydney. We saw all sorts of fish, and swam along side a manta ray with a 5-foot wing span. That was the coolest. You think of rays as being flat, but it was thick. It's head was easily the size of a human's. I had a close encounter with a big lung fish—sort of a hybrid between a catfish and an eel.

We were excited to finally see some wild wombats while we were driving at night. These things are MASSIVE guinea pigs. They remind me of the black guinea pig I had growing up that I named Remus. During our biking adventures during the day we saw lots of wombat burrows (pictured on the left).

I can't write a love letter to Australia without mentioning the fantastic (albeit expensive and polluting) Sydney New Year's Eve fireworks display that we enjoyed from our balcony. It was extremely novel to see such an amazing display, that growing up we always saw on TV (since Australia celebrates NYE waaaay before the United States).

This trip got us very excited and optimistic for the adventures we will be having in the very near future around Australia.