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.