I had barely taken 10 steps off the jetway in Brisbane. Fumbling with the unlocked GSM cell phone that I purchased for this trip I was realizing that I wasn’t getting a signal when I practically walked into someone. Upon raising my eyes from the useless piece of electronics in my hand there was a Qantas flight attendant greeting me with a huge smile and a hug. However I had just flown Virgin Blue and Qantas was in another terminal. It was my friend Erica. She had just gotten in from working a flight from LA and had walked up at the exact time that I was deplaning. Indeed…this was the way I would like to be greeted every time I get off an airplane. Erica was my host as she was just over a year ago when I was in Brisbane. This time however we would be traveling down to Byron Bay staying with some old friends of hers Matt & Carlie. They lived just outside of Byron Bay on 25 acres of land that they purchased a year or so back. Living in their RV in the beginning they had built an outhouse (one of the nicest ‘outhouses’ I’ve ever seen with custom tiled shower / floor etc..) and a shed that they now called home until the house will be completed in another year. Here Matt introduced me to things I knew about but didn’t know about. Owning 25 acres was nice, but there was a catch, they didn’t have any utilities. This meant that when it was raining, they caught the rain, when it was sunny, they caught the sun. There gutters on the roof poured into a 5000 gallon water container that they used for drinking, showering and laundry. Their power was generated from both propane gas & solar cells on the roof. The toilet was a composting toilet and as hippy as it sounds, it really all just made sense. It didn’t even have the hippy feel, I swear there wasn’t any petrully for miles. Matt and I bonded, he too was a once upon a time a corporate drone coding away until wee hours of the morning. Walking away from that job he found a new home and a new life with his wife Carlie and a new profession as a tandem master at the local DZ only 10 minutes drive. I must be honest and say that everything seemed quite appealing to me…the land…..building his own house…..using the energy and life that nature gives you…..everything except becoming a tandem master…..that’s where he lost me, but to each is own and of course you need to be able to provide some form of income to pay the bill. You can’t after all catch money….
Byron Bay is a place that catches your eye. It’s a hippy, surfer, touristy town where the beach just seems to stretch as far as the eye can see. Right in the middle of the bay it comes to a point where the light house stands. Sitting next to the door of the Cessna Caravan on the way to altitude your mind wonders as you gaze in aw at the size of the bay, the beaches and the light house, as picturesque as you could possibly imagine. Before you know it the picture has turned into reality as you’re in freefall helplessly attempting to divert your gaze from the scenery and concentrate on the skydive at hand. Of course this was all for naught as the views take control and your focus is gone. While in Byron Bay I was also able to catch up with Kristen from Chicago who had arrived a few days before we did. She will be there for 3 months while teaching at the local high school. Since she hadn’t started classes yet, the three of us ran around and explored what the town had to offer.
Back in Brisbane my time spent lounging pool side was cut short and I was being put to work. Oh yes….this was no time to rest as I assembled gutters, changed tires, installed car batteries, cleaned camel backs and the list went on. Erica was surely a slave driver in a previous life as our days of ‘sleeping in’ started at well before 9 am. This should be illegal. Tish was sent in as my alarm clock to jar me from my slumber so that I could begin the daily choirs. Tish of course…..was the dog. A loveable canine always wanting her belly scratched, she did not quite have that cuddly appeal at 8 in the morning. Ok, so maybe some of this slave driving was just in my mind, but at the end of the day I had lots of fun hanging out in Brisbane and Byron. Erica showed me once again….that she indeed was a rock star. She even convinced me that whenever I buy my next place to live…..I am going to own chickens. Fresh eggs…..one a day. All from the flightless bird that doesn’t eat much more than grain and seeds along with plucking at the back yard. Simple to keep and collect eggs…..I’m going to need a house with a yard. I’m pretty sure that the townhouse on Bucky Dr says ‘no chickens’ some where in the by laws but I’m not positive.
With only a few days in Melbourne I attempted to jam in as much as possible. I spoke to Axle from Sydney who grew up there and got some tips for the city. My mate Brad that I met a year ago in Cairns and had also come to Boston for a week was in town. After running all over Fitzroy for a few days, it reminded a lot of East Berlin. The young hip crowd and the endless number of cafes abound, it was a place that was very welcoming and yearned to be explored. Wanting to connect with the locals and get the real experience, I attempted to find someone on couch surfers to host me. While this didn’t work out in the long run I did manage to meet up with a smiling stranger, who oddly enough, lived in Fitzroy. We met for coffee and had dinner at the Queen Victoria Markets. A festive event with live music and vendors hawking their goods from T-shirts to high end paintings and everything in between, the markets were a pleasant surprise and a nice change of pace from running around a city. Later that night I made my way down to St. Kilda and met up with Brad at the Vineyard. Having a prime location on the main drag, live acoustic guitar and a woman’s voice billowed out to the streets. Brad was there with 3 or 4 other local skydivers having a night out and kicking back. He introduced me to his mates as ‘one of the guys on Team Mandrin’, to my surprise one of them had seen our videos and was asking all sorts of questions about VRW. A small world indeed. Catching the last tram back to the city I managed to get some sleep and wake up early as the next day, my last full day in town, I had a 600 km drive in front of me.
My new couch surfer friend Merle and I wanted to see the 12 Apostles. This would be an epic journey that took us down the great ocean road and into random rain forests and hidden beaches. Putting my photographic skills to the test I attempted to capture the images that my eyes were seeing. This was a formidable task and one that I have yet to master. While I was able to capture some of the feel of what we were seeing, it paled in comparison to actually being there. Stopping at the famous Bells beach we saw where Bodi caught the 100 year wave into oblivion. A truly enlightening experience. Along the way we couldn’t help but stop time and time again as merely the side of the road was something to be seen. Waves crashing over rough rocks that had been tossed about on the coast line right next to the most pristine beaches you’ve ever seen. Finally we stopped at a camp ground that caught our eye. It was snuggled into a valley with a stream that lead out to the ocean. If we had more time on our hands this would have been a place to stay for a few days while venturing on one of the many hikes that were available. Just on the other side of the road was a beach that if it were in California or Florida would have been packed elbow to elbow with sun bathers trying to get rid of those nasty tan lines. Being on the southern coast of Victoria there wasn’t a soul in sight. Diving into the ocean we were reminded that it was still in charge. Actually it reminded me that it was still in charge. Merle was a surfer and life guard. After being raised in Germany, she had been telling me of her last 7 years living on the New Zealand coast surfing every chance she got and being in the water usually 3 to 4 times a week. This was obviously her play ground and I was merely visiting. Once back on the road we made a few more stops along the way and finally found the 12 Apostles. What are the 12 Apostles you might ask? Well if you don’t know then you’ll just have to look at the pictures below. They were amazing. The sheer cliffs dropping down to perfect beaches with towering rock formations standing at attention out in the waves. I stood there with my camera praying for a break in the clouds and finally the winds heard my calls and cleared the way for some rays to light up the cliffs and cast shadows upon one another. It was a long and windy drive but after getting just a few of those photographs….it was all well worth it.
As I write this I find myself sitting on an Airbus 330 heading to Denpasar, Bali. With Australia behind me I’m already longing to return. I have a feeling that this is going to be a common sensation this trip. Having some down time here and there I’ve been managing to tear through some books. One of these reads was entitled ‘Getting stoned with Savages’ It’s about a couple that had enough of corporate life and went to live on Vanuatu and Fiji islands in the South Pacific for a few years. After traveling for only a short time I can see how appealing this really is. Of course in this book, the author’s wife had a job that brought her to these places so he was able to spend time writing and enjoying life. So if there are any single woman out there that want to support a homeless, jobless 32 year old with the travel bug and a zest for life…….let’s buy a ticket to Fiji and see what happens 🙂