Saturday, November 28, 2009


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 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.