Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Outback Part 1: Isn't the Outback supposed to be warm?

(In order to keep the Outback story from becoming an opus of Cervantes-esque length, we've elected to split the up the ten day adventure into five two day stories for your reading pleasure. Here is part one. Enjoy!)

The day started early. Too early for Becca and me as we were packed and waiting inside our hostel waiting area in Adelaide at 6:30am in anticipation for the trip to start. We still weren't quite sure if the trip was such a good idea (10 days with 9 other people can be a LONG time) but we were jumping in feet first. Waiting with us outside was someone in a ranger hat and full backpack chowing away at Subway tuna sub. This was Thorsten, the first of our fellow trip mates we were to meet.

Here's a brief description of our fellow travelers for the next ten days:

Thorsten: (26) German doing a brief working stint in Geelong before heading back to Germany for his PhD. Also a budding photographer and fan of the footy.

Seh Ling: (21) From Singapore and currently studying speech pathology in Melbourne. Razor sharp wit and not afraid to use it.

Wei Leng: (21) Also from Singapore and currently studying speech pathology in Melbourne. Equally sharp wit but a bit kinder in her use of it. Pathologically (and hysterically funnily) afraid of dogs, from rottweilers to chihuahuas

Chu: (21) South Korean currently in Adelaide studying English for ten weeks before heading home

Elena: (17) Swiss-German spending part of her senior year of HS studying in Australia.

Sebastian: (24) German studying Computer Science in Australia

Michelle: (21) Dutch girl who'd just finished up a work program with a travel agency in Sydney before heading back to the Netherlands to finish university.

Jenny: (27) Our token Pom (UK) who'd just finished up teaching math in Sydney and was coming close to finishing her year in Australia with an eye towards sticking around.

Drew: (35) Our fearless leader was a native Australian, Adelaide born and bred. Been doing the route for about 4 years now. Had a wicked sense of humor and his own sense of fashion.

In short, four men and seven women encompassing eight countries thrown together to spend the next ten days and 3,150 kms together in the back of a 4WD. Sound like fun?

After signing all the necessary paperwork and picking up our sleeping bags and swags, we were off. Day one involved a fair amount of driving as we were doing our best to put Adelaide behind us and get into the Flinders Ranges, with our final stop for the night being Warren Gorge. We got to the Gorge in time to do a short (but steep!) walk to the rock pinnacle above our camp. In addition to the exercise and nice views, we got to see a number of rare yellow footed rock wallabies and some emus.

When we set up camp Drew warned us to fold over our swags for two reasons: 1) it was supposed to get cold (three to four below Celsius) the next two nights (see picture above) and 2) it made it more difficult for scorpions, spiders and the like to climb into our swags to stay warm. With those two comforting thoughts in mind, we tucked into dinner and then our swags for a nice night of sleep out in the stars.

Morning came with me quickly realizing I'd lost the swag lottery. Evidently there were two small-sized swags and despite the fact that I was the second tallest person in the group (excluding Drew who has his own king sized swag) I ended up in a midget swag, leaving my sleeping bag, swag and part of my face frosted as well as short on sleep after trying to sleep at a 45 degree angle most of the night. Needless to say during the day I was able to switch with Seh Ling (who checks in under five feet) and get a proper sized swag for the remainder of the trip. This was important, as proper swag technique in this sort of weather involves zipping it all the way up above your head and then flipping the flap over the open end to fully tuck yourself in at night.

Our second day brought visits to the town of Hawker, Wilpena Pound and more of the Flinders Ranges. All of these places gave us a great feel as to some of the varying terrains of the Outback. Wilpena Pound especially was an amazing site as the current formations are the remains (the outside edge/circumferance) of mountains that had been as high as 15km (over nine miles) high long, long ago. Just amazing stuff when you think about it from an ecological perspective. For a little more info on the area, check out this site.

Two days in, we were settling into the day to day life on the road. Dinners were getting cooked quicker (and were DELICIOUS), the cheese toasties at breakfast weren't ending up looking quite so cajun, the swags were getting folded a little neater (despite the bone chilling frost that made rolling them up a dicey prospect) and everyone was looking forward to getting into the "true" outback where hopefully the sub zero temps were a thing of the past. Our next stop? William Creek, population 3. Or 5; depending on how much seasonal help they get.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Do adventures have warranties?

If so, then ours just ran out. After passing the 13 month mark a week or so ago, we've had a litany of things fall apart and/or disappear on us. Here's a brief list:

  • Brian's Sunglasses
  • Brian's Watch
  • Two pairs of Brian's underwear
  • Becca's Daybag
  • Becca's button up short sleeve shirt
  • One flashlight
I'm sure there has been more but evidently my mental sanity was covered under the same warranty. To be frank we're really starting to feel the trip both mentally and physically. Not sure what it is that's causing it but it's like we hit a wall at Mach 10. A good guess would be that we are really overwhelmed by everything that needs to get done both travel wise and preparing for home/work wise in the next few weeks. The last thing we need is to return home to everything that has to be done already burned out/fried...and we're heading that way at the moment.

We're doing our best to combat it, especially since we only have 3 1/2 weeks or so left in Australia. There's still so much to see but we're also realizing that in order to reach the US in one piece, we may have to scrap some of our plans (keeping big things like the Great Barrier Reef) and just spend a little more time relaxing and enjoying our last month without pesky things to worry about like job hunting, selling a house, etc. Of course with this being us we've already been thinking about these things way too much. We're doing our best to put them at the back of our mind and just enjoy the last bit of the adventure but since we're also ready to be home, it's a hard thing to do. Hopefully we can find a balance between the two as this portion of the adventure winds down.

So there you go, a little insight into the minds of your favorite intrepid travelers. Here's to hoping our warranties hold out just a little bit longer...


Cricket redux

So... a bit of a retraction is necessary. Yesterday I couldn't suppress a snore as I said I was heading off to watch cricket with Brian for the day. Well, it still wouldn't be my first choice for an every weekend activity, but I actually quite enjoyed myself and learned a ton.

This was greatly helped by being taken under the wings of Pete and Paula, some of the team parents of the Waratah cricket club. Their sons are playing on the highest (A) level team, and they were happy to share their knowledge (and behind the scenes gossip) with some interested Americans. We watched 6.5 hours of cricket on Saturday (yes, I love my husband that much) and I was treated to quite a show. Though it wasn't top-level cricket (like Test level matches between various countries) it was pretty decent, and I actually got to see all kinds of cool cricket moments (while of course eating the obligatory meat pie). For those who actually know the game and/or care, those included someone scoring a century, a bowler taking 6 wickets, someone getting bowled out for a golden duck, a team going all out for 319 runs, and in total almost 400 runs and 11 wickets in a day. (ed. that's a lot of runs for a day's play) And yes, I did have trouble keeping a straight face while writing that last sentence.

We enjoyed ourselves enough that this morning we headed over to another Oval to watch the Waratah under-17's finish up the first half of their match. Pete and Paula's youngest son (who at 15 already has made the A-level team) also plays for the young guys. When we got there he was just pushing towards a double century. Unfortunately, at 195 he was bowled out by an LBW. (Leg before wicket). And yes, I actually know what I'm talking about.

We got into the team enough to plan on following their results this season on the internet and we left as honorary Waratah Cricket Club fans, complete with official caps.

While it's not exactly a sport to take the unconverted by storm, it is a nice relaxing way to spend a sunny afternoon. I'm glad I tried it.


Friday, July 21, 2006

Reason 139 Why We Like Australia

When asking at the hostel desk whether or not it was allowed to bring alcohol to a beach popular for sunset viewing we were told:

"Actually, i highly recommend it."

Off to see a local cricket match today (Brian has made sure that I've seen footy (Aussie rules), rugby union, and cricket live. Add in all the saltwater crocs we ran into in Kakadu and I'm feeling like a real Aussie). For those of you who don't know cricket, think baseball with less action. Zzzzzzzzzzz. At least it'll give me an opportunity to work on writing some of the blog entries and other to-dos).

We've been chilling in Darwin for a few days after our Kakadu trip (and yes, hopefully we will get entries on that and the Outback posted soon). We highly recommend the Darwin museum. It's free and has lots of great and informative exhibits on natural history, wildlife, and aboriginal art. We don't recommend going to see a movie here. It's extortionate highway robbery. The Mindil Beach Markets are pretty cool too.Tomorrow night we take the red eye to Brisbane and head north up the coast on Monday. Once we've figured out our plans we'll let you know.

Hopefully more soon.


Sunday, July 16, 2006

Putting the TOUR in Tourist

(And see entry below for hot camel cup action!)

One of the things we're having a hard time adjusting to in the latter part of our Australia visit is having to become Tourists (with a capital T-O-U-R). For most of the past 13 months we have been traveling and sightseeing fairly independently. We would take a bus or train or other form of public transportation to get to a place and then we'd explore it on our own time. There have only been a very few times (2 in Laos, 2 in Vietnam, 1 in China, 1 in New Zealand) where we have done a tour in order to get to places that either a) we couldn't connect by public transportation, b) weren't allowed to go into by ourselves, or c) didn't have the technical skills or social/language contacts to visit by ourselves.

Our most recent travel experience in New Zealand was as independent as we've been: it was just us and our car going where we chose when we chose and doing what we chose. Central/Northern/Eastern Australia, on the other hand has been, and will continue to be, a very different experience. Whether because you need certain permits to access protected or Aboriginal-held lands, advanced 4-WD handling skills, knowledge of how/where to avoid being eaten by crocodiles, lots of camping equipment, or access to a boat, almost everything we want to do/see here is requiring a tour.

Check it out:

  • Adelaide to Alice Springs camping in the middle of nowhere outback: TOUR
  • Hiking/swimming in Kakadu Park (and avoiding crocs): TOUR
  • 4WDing/camping on Fraser Island: TOUR
  • Heading out to the Great Barrier Reef to dive/snorkel: TOUR
  • Sailing around the Whitsunday Islands: TOUR

This bums us out for many reasons. The most obvious is that it is so hideously more expensive that way and pretty much makes it impossible to keep to our budget. (It'll also probably mean that we will have to trim the above list). But also because in general we are wary of being thrown together with lots of other not-necessarily like-minded folks and being marched along according to someone else's schedule.

Actually, that being said we've been incredibly fortunate with the tours we've gone on. We've actually really enjoyed them all both for the experience, what we've seen and learned, and the interactions with our fellow travelers. But we've also been really really careful and picky looking for trips and have only selected ones that have very small group sizes, and are geared toward the sort of eco-touring we like to do. We'll obviously write more about it later, but our Outback tour turned out great and our group of 10 really bonded (despite 7 different nationalities and a 17 year age gap between oldest and youngest)

I think that's why we're so nervous about the upcoming trips. The groups will tend to be bigger, and they are definitely geared toward a more touristy cookie cutter type experience then we like. Plus we've noticed a definite lack of targeting of our demographic (are we that abnormal?). Our choices for tours in the north and on the east coast seem to either be trips that are active and roughing it and adventurous but that emphasize partying and craziness for young 20's crowd or they are sedate comfortable trips in coaches for the well-to-do. What about active tours for the late 20's - early 40's crowd who still want to get out there and rough it and experience things? I guess we're just doing this trip 10 years too late. Who am I kidding? I'm actually much less uptight now and able to enjoy the party crowd now than I was 10 years ago. Oh well.

We leave for the first of our being-nervous about trips tomorrow morning. The good news is that there will be at most 9 of us so size-wise it'll be good. But it looks like we may be the oldest by 10 years or more! Wish us luck (or earplugs). :-)

More from the Outback soon!


(Picture just a teaser from the Painted Desert during the Outback trip)

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Camel Cup Report

The Lions Club, the working girls of Minnie Made (this link isn't for kids or work for that matter) and camels. What do these three things have in common? All three have played a major role in one of Alice Springs' biggest controversies in one of their annual biggest events, the Imparja Camel Cup.

Becca and I hadn't realized there was so much controversy surrounding our choice of things to do on a Saturday afternoon. After we'd read about the fact that there was local Camel races, we elected to jerryrig our schedule a bit so we could hang around for the event itself. So what was the controversy that had everyone in such a stir?

There were veiled references to "pressure being applied", "a few narrow minded people", and "controversy emerge as well as a new major sponsor and committee" in the Presidents' Messages but the Phlegmington Cup message really says it all. It's a bit long and there will be a brief recap after it but it's well worth the read:

The citizens of Alice Springs are exhorted to fight like lions for the honour of the Camel Cup - and some working girls.

By god, I hope those lion-hearted Lions poohbahs in Alice Springs stick to their guns during this whole Camel Cup rumpy-pumpy brouhaha. It was bad enough when the last American ambassador felt his status as overlord of Dubya's most loyal satrapy entitled him to interfere with the doin's and goings-on of the ALP (Australia Labor Party). Now every toothless gimp from across the Pacific feels entitled to play sheriff every time they get a sniff of some't they don't rightly hold with a-happenin' and a-transpirin' down on the big ponderosa at the bottom of the globe. Somebody should tell these know-nuthin' know it alls that just because they can play banjo with their toes and surge half-a-dozen carrier battle groups into Sylvania Waters on 30 minutes notice, that doesn't give them the right to go fiddling with our Lions, our camels or our licensed knocking shops.

Because, somehow, some of them awoke recently labouring under just that delusion.

Every year the Lions Club of Alice Springs runs the Camel Cup, a charity event attracting thousands of punters, one Afghan ambassador and dozens of grumpy, foul-smelling dromedaries. The punters drink heavily, the ambassador grins maniacally and the camels hawk glistening wads of green phlegm on all comers without fear or favour.

Later in the day, some of them run off in all directions while being whipped by untrained idiots covered in beer and camel snot. This is the Imparja Camel Cup and is considered to be a highlight of the red centre's tourist calendar. It raises a pile of money which goes to local charities.

For the last four years, one of the sponsors of the cup has been an escort agency with the perplexing handle of Minnie Made. (You've gotta wonder, given those poor literacy standards we're always hearing about, whether a lot of blokes, who are just looking for a house cleaner, end up with some unexpected lovin' into the bargain.) Until this year, the camels and the hookers had lived in a comfortable symbiosis, but the registration in protest of race announcer Chris Tangey has thrown a spanner into that happy arrangement.

Mr. Tangey apparently objected to a family event being associated with a takeaway bordello and his concerns, rejected by Lions Club organizers, found a sympathetic hearing in the US.

A wind-up mouthpiece by the name of Dane LaJoye from the Lions Club International HQ and Deathstar in Oak Brook, Illinois wrote to his upstart colonial outpost complaining that Minnie's sponsorship was an outrage.

"I have spoken with our legal department [and]... the use of the Lions logo in association with something that undermines the moral values of a given community is not in keeping with the high standards of Lions Club International," he puffed.

To their credit, the Alice Springs Lions reacted with some measured outrage of their own, with big cat Keith McEwen roaring that if murderers can go to church and put money in the plate, Minnie's can sponsor their bloody camel. He also pointed out that all the newspapers fulminating about this issue took advertising from escort agencies, which isn't actually true, yet, but I'll be having a word with the ad guys later this week, so here's hoping.

It's hard to know who to blame for all this but... Actually, no it's not.

It's all John Howard's (ed. Current Australia Prime Minister) fault.

Perhaps if the PM had not gone to such lengths to create the impression in the American mind that Australia is a wholly owned subsidiary of Texas Incorporated, we might not have come to this juncture.

The camels would be running free. Minnie Made would be flat out. And a legion of morbidly obese mid-westerners in tasselled loafers, checkered rayon pants, and ill-fitting body shirts would not be heading our way in a fleet of wood-walled station wagons. Bibles in hand and dudgeon hight, to tell us how to run our camel races.

To the Lions of Alice Springs I say hold fast and prepare to receive the brutish foe. Do it for the hard-working girls of the legitimate small business that is Minnie Made. Do it for Australia. And most of all, do it for those noble ships in the desert, who are the innocent camel-meat in the giant novelty sandwich in this transpacific crisis.

If you've hung around long enough to read the whole thing, you can see they take their camels seriously. To paraphrase the diatribe, the working girls of Alice Springs have always sponsored camels in the cup. The Lions Club HQ in the good old USofA got a hold of it, tried to put the kibosh on it and in true (Northern) Territory fashion, the Alice Springs folks told them to go bugger off.
With this as a backdrop, Becca and I got some bleacher seats and settled in for an unseasonably cold day at the races. Even the locals were wearing furry coats in an effort to keep out the cold. We instead chose to combat it with cans of Victoria Bitter in our flash new stubbie holders.
Things kicked off in earnest with the parading of the special guests around the course on camels. Including in this group was a "famous" actor, Olympian Dawn Fraser and the only person who looked remotely comfortable on the camel, the Afghan ambassador to Australia. Oh and the race mascots, who defy description. The PA team pitched in with their banter; our favorite being their suggestion on how to properly train for camel racing: "Jump into a washing machine".
That mental image firmly on our mind, the races began. The first four races were qualifiers for the big one: the Imparja Camel Cup. Here's a recap of the races:
Race 1:
-The first rider of the cup was bucked 10 meters into the race.
-The top two at the halfway mark suffered interesting fates: the leader got tossed pretty severely (though was able to walk away ok after some extended time down on the track) while her camel "won" going away. The second place person ended up winning the race despite his camel doing a 360 on the homestretch.
-Being absolutely amazed at the sitting start executed by the camels. For as surly as they were on the track getting them to sit was seemingly no problem.
-Bring even more amazed at the chaos that ensues when the pistol goes off and the camels surge up from their sitting start
Race 2:
-Three camels refuse to go anywhere at the start with one even taking the extra step of bucking off its rider and going after the other two rogue camels. Having seen this up close (I was taking pics of the start) I can safely say you'll never see me racing a camel. Ever.
-One guy ran beside his camel the whole race, finishing a good few minutes behind everyone else. For perspective the winners of the races were covering 400m in about 40 seconds. Nice use of race rule 19b though.
-The rickshaw races between camel races were won by four guys in leisure suits. Also the first of many kids' hobby camel races (think wooden horses but with camels).
-Spent the time between races (motto: 40 minutes of waiting for 40 seconds of racing!) checking out the myriad of food options: steak sandwich, sausage sandwich and meat pies. I think one place offered strawberries?! as an alternative.
Race 3:
-Mmm... steak, onion and potato sandwiches...
-The top two simply ran away from everyone else causing our neighbors to astutely point out "There sure does seem to be a wide range of abilities".
-Our first sighting of a Minnie Made camel who to my disappointment finishes 4th. The chance of a Minnie Made camel winning the cup is looking slim.
-Yet another two riders were bucked. So far we've yet to see a clean race.
Race 4:
-Becca and I finally take cover from the increasingly worsening conditions by tucking ourselves behind a Victoria Bitter race sign at track side. This becomes our home for the rest of the day much to the jealousy of the suckers still getting chilled by the desert Alice Springs winds.
-The last qualifier for the Camel Cup goes off without a hitch. Everyone stays on their camels and play nice long enough for everyone to have a clean race.
-Minnie Made's camel evidently came back for more, complete with a new rider. Won the race going away; oh how I'd love to see them have to present the trophy to the ladies...
-In addition to the countless BBQ's and beer stands, men dressed as Vikings, women belly dancing and beer can hats being sold were observed between races on the concourse. Kind of like the Kentucky Derby but different.
Race 5:
-The big one, the Imparja Camel Cup. There was evidently a Miss Camel Cup Challenge going on before this but since our loudspeaker conked out before the first race we chose to instead keep sheltering behind our beer sign.
-An overheard exchange:
Well-dressed Aussie women who've obviously just showed up: "Is this the Camel Cup? Where are all the camels?"
Local standing next to us: "They'll run past us during the race"
WDAW: "But wherre are they now? We came here to see camels"
LSNTU: "Here, there and everywhere"
Confused looks ensue, they scamper off and everyone around gets a good smirk out of it. Maybe they flew up from Sydney for the day.
-Ok, the race itself. Again another clean race (a little less surprising this time given the general quality of the racers). The leader for 80% of it started to slip off her camel on the home stretch, costing her the race. Mucho credit is still to be given though as she held her grip just long enough to cross the line second, then dropped off the side of the camel she'd be "riding" on for the last 100 meters.
-Sadly the Minnie Made camel finished far back in the pack.
With that it was time for us (and apparently 2/3 of the crowd) to leave. We had a flight to catch while the rest scampered home to see if they could find their space heaters. We were sad to leave; still on the docket were the Honeymoon Handicap (where Husband and Wife had to switch mounts mid race), the Prettiest Camel competition and four more races. Thankfully though the five races we saw gave us memories to last a lifetime.
If you're in Alice Springs anywhere around July 16th next year, make it a priority to stick around to see this event. It is truly an Australian cultural experience that gives you a much better understanding into the lives of those who live in the NT (Northern Territory). Who knows, maybe you'll be the lucky one to see the Minnie Made ladies collect the big prize.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Shaking the red dust out of our boots

Just a quick note to let everybody know we made it through the Outback without being eaten by dingos or bitten by snakes. It was an absolutely amazing experience and we are overwhelmed by the number of pictures (though we only took 1/100th as many as Thorsten did!) and stories we have collected. Hopefully as we sift through them over the next week we'll be able to start sharing them with you.

We leave tomorrow night for Darwin where we'll soon be leaving on another (much shorter) 4wd camping trip to Kakadu National Park.

Until then, we just have one word for you: Camels!


Sunday, July 02, 2006

New Posts! Get your new posts here!

Just a quick check-in before we go off wine-tasting around Adelaide. We've spent a wonderfully relaxing couple of days hanging out with Darren and Karla, Aussies that we met in Vernazza (in the Cinque Terre) last October. It's amazing how well you can bond over Italian pastries, and they invited us to visit them when we got to this phase of the trip. It's been great getting to know them and we're looking forward to hopefully hosting them in the Pacific NW in a couple of years.

We've been busy putting up new posts and getting caught up on pictures. This was important because as of tomorrow we will be out of touch for the next 10 days. As Brian mentioned earlier we're going on an Outback expedition: using a 4wd vehicle (and knowledgeable guides) to get way out in the middle of nowhere in the red desert. It's cool to think we'll be places that most Australians will never see, and we're looking forward to the combination of harshness, beauty and strangeness that makes up the Outback. Hopefully we won't freeze too much at night and we'll be able to keep the spiders, snakes, and scorpions out of our bedding, and we will emerge again in Alice Springs with some great stories and pictures to share.

So until then, get caught up on the posts, peruse the pictures, and get out and enjoy July. See you on the 13th!


we'd love to come back to an inbox full of emails hint hint hint :-)

Going "home" again

Nine years ago I came to Melbourne for my first foray abroad. For three months Melbourne was my home; I lived and worked here and despite the foolishness of youth I felt like I'd gotten to know the city and in my later travels more of the country at large.

In looking back now I realize that I'd gained only a small tidbit of insight into this town. Thankfully age and more travel experience has taught me that that's ok. Our visit this time has enabled me to gain a little additional knowledge of the city and what it has to offer. Sure it's just a little but it's knowledge that is built upon and continues to transform my impressions of this wonderful city.

So much of the city is the same from my previous visit; the shadow of the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) looming large, the various bustling stalls at the Queen Victoria Market, the clocks informing passengers of the trains leaving Flinders Street station and the night lights and night life along the Yarra River. With continuity comes change though: Federation Square and its funky architecture both stand out and somehow fit into the downtown landscape while the new Docklands development stands alone, desperately wanting to be included in the vibrant energy of the city but just not quite knowing how.

In the end though the city just continued to feel like home. I wish I could tell folks about the museums and art exhibits that make Melbourne the cultural capital of Australia. Instead all I can point to is the warm spot in my gut whenever I'm walking the Melbourne streets or even just thinking about my favorite city in the world. It doesn't have the tourist selling points like a Sydney or Paris. Instead its calling card is in its livability. Fantastic public transportation; high levels of culture and sport and a multicultural population that allows the city to continue to grow with the times. It's a metropolis that doesn't take itself too seriously and is widely regarded as the cultural and sporting capital of Australia.

All of this makes for a great quotes in a tourism brochure I'm sure. What really truly makes it my second home is the people; my "extended" family so to speak. Having the opportunity to reconnect with the Greens (Michael & Rita as well as Sarah, Catherine and the always entertaining Father Mikey) whom I lived with for my time in Melbourne and with my old boss Phil and his wife Margaret has made me again appreciate how lucky I am to have such friends halfway around the globe. It's also given me the opportunity to introduce them to Becca and show I suppose that I'm no longer the raw, inexperienced 22-year-old they got to know nine years ago. It was a great visit albeit too short. It's very tough to fit nine years worth of catching up into a week. Hopefully the time between visits won't be so long the next time around.

I always wondered whether I could go back "home" again. In some ways this was one of my most anticipated visits of the trip. I was both excited and anxious at the same time. Would the city hold up to my previous memories? Would Becca enjoy it given how endlessly I'd talked about it over the past 5 years? And most importantly, would having the chance to reconnect with everyone go well?

Thankfully after a week in my favorite metropolis in the world the answer is yes, you can go home again.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Musings on the third phase of the trip

Looking back we see that our trip divides very cleanly into three phases, corresponding to the three continents/areas that we have travelled in. Phase one was Europe. This was a time of learning about how we travelled together and what sort of things we needed to do to stay within our budget. It was characterized by many visits to close friends, lots of sightseeing of old buildings and art of historic/cultural value and hours and hours of walking through the streets of the European cities. Despite the fact that Ireland was the only official English speaking country we visited, language and communication were rarely an issue (not only because English is so widely understood but because we either spoke or quickly picked up a number of the languages). It was a relatively easy way to start travelling: low culture shock, high budget shock, low discomfort level and many familiar faces.

Phase two was Asia. This was different in almost every way. Nothing was familiar, the potential for discomfort was much greater, the budget pressures were much much lower, and though we did see famous "things" (monuments/buildings/temples/art), much more of the experience was just seeing the people and the way they lived and trying to interact and learn from them. Though it wasn't always fun, we always had the sense that this was 'really travelling' and it changed us in innumerable ways. Easily the most memorable part of the trip.

Phase three is Australiasia and the South Pacific: Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. Especially after China it was such a change (and a bit of a relief) to arrive somewhere uncrowded, clean, full of natural beauty, and English speaking. If Europe was about seeing history and Asia was about seeing people/culture, then this phase of the trip is about seeing nature. And what glorious nature it has been and continues to be...

Surprisingly though, we're finding this to be the most difficult phase of the trip mentally. I think we sort of expected it to be smooth sailing once we left Asia and made it down here, but we're actually struggling quite a bit. A number of factors have led to that. The primary one is probably the fact that two weeks ago we hit the one year mark. It's funny, we didn't expect that to be that big of a deal but psychologically it appears to have taken quite a toll on us.

The second factor is the fact that we are starting to get a little more organized about and focused on life post-trip. So we are starting to work on our resumes, do research on potential employers, and start looking into neighborhoods and housing prices, and that means that we spend a lot more time thinking about home than we did earlier. Plus once you start making plans about how to approach things like selling and buying houses or job searching you start getting impatient to start implementing those plans.

The third factor was one we hadn't expected at all. But it turns out that after the extreme culture shock that is SE Asia and the sort of surroundings that you get used to (farm animals wandering across the road, cars driving every direction on the road, bargaining for everything, colorful markets, different languages, strange foods, etc. etc.) it just seems very ordinary travelling here. Combine that with scenery in NZ/OZ that looks remarkably like Oregon/NoCal and in some ways it doesn't really feel like we're world travelling anymore. We could just be in a really beautiful part of home. (Hopefully that feeling will change a bit when we head out into the Outback next week) So that also makes it seem like we should be home.

The end result of all of this is that we are really tired...mentally and physically...and it shows in everything we do: going for hikes, trying to plan trip logistics (transportation, lodging, etc.) for coming weeks, maintaining the blog. We are really, truly ready to come home. At the same time, we love this part of the world, are enjoying our visits, and are looking forward to all the parts yet to see. So maybe I should say instead that we will be really ready to come home.

Until then, here's to more adventures.

Becca all those who knew me before the trip, yes that is me drinking beer. who woulda thunk?