Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wheee! of the Never-Never

Distance in Australia: 396.7 km
Total distance: 7778.5 km

By Sundance:

Picking up from last time, I felt like adding a few of my own thoughts to Yana's recollection of our last night in Sydney, and the fantastic meal we had. At one point I found myself staring out of the restaurant window at the street below, and feeling very impressed that Australia had such wonderful things to offer, from food to natural beauty. And it felt in many ways like the rest of the world doesn't really get it. I was grateful that I live here. After so much time on the other side of the world, coming home to a place that's so familiar and yet so different from my reality of the recent past made me feel like a native of a fictional land, like Neverland or Oz, coming back to reexperience all that magical stuff I grew up with and had missed so much.

On Friday morning we got stuck into reattaching the remaining paraphernalia to our bikes - front panier racks, bottle cages, speedometers and so on. It took a little doing, but we managed to remember how most of it attached and make up what we couldn't remember. This (naturally) took longer than we'd hoped, but a little after lunchtime we bid farewell to Amanda and Eddy, and set off through Sydney. But first we stopped off for a bite of Thai food. Then we set off through Sydney, making our way eventually to the southern edge of town. We had a quick chat with a fellow at a 7-eleven who assured us we could camp in the nearby National Park, and made our way in that direction. It was after dark when we arrived and the park office was closed, but we found a ranger's house and asked where we could put up a tent - well apparently we were supposed to have pre-registered to stay in the park, and he gave us a bit of a talking-to about that, and eventually said we could pop up a tent out of the way in one of the picnic areas. So we found a spot, Yana popped up the tent, and I discovered that the stove was being temperamental. I fiddled with cleaning it a bit and trying to get it to work, but eventually Yana just made us some peanut butter sandwiches. Quite a contrast from the previous night's dinner!

We awoke the following morning just before the Sun peered over the hills, and took great delight in the light creeping through the treetops and the birds wandering around our campsite. After breakfast we took off to ride through the rest of the park, struggling up the hills and realising that we're a bit out of shape, and zooming down the other sides. We passed through the mix of eucalypts and palms thinking that it really gave Maui a run for it's money in terms of beauty, and eventually emerged at teh southern edge of the park to overlook the Pacific. A bit further on we rode into the town of Stanwell Park and grabbed some groceries to make lunch. We wandered down to the beach chatting with a fellow named Jim - who looked a bit dishevelled. We weren't sure if he was homeless or just a little lonely, but he seemed to enjoy having someone to talk with, and it made us feel good to obviously brighten someone's day. Stanwell Park turned out to be where Lawrence Hargraves did his experiments in the 1890s, being lifted off the ground by large box kites. These experiemnts helped him figure out how to stabilise an aircraft, and although he didn't fly any powered aircraft, his ideas certainly helped the Wright brothers design their machines.

Since it's winter in Australia, and very close to the shortest day of the year we wandered briefly onto the beach to have a look around, and then headed back onto the road, southwards once more. We passed numerous pretty vistas, and eventually found a bike path that promised to run all the way into Wollongong. Just short of there we checked at a caravan park on how much they charged for a tent site ($27! No thank you!) and headed further along. Not too much furtehr along we came upon a fellow walking his dog for the evening and asked him if there was somewhere cheaper to camp for teh night, and he offered us his backyard. Milton was his name, and Tasha was his very friendly German Shepard. Milton turned out to be renovating his house to make it a nice beach house for his kids to stay in when they visit, and despite his numerous apologies about the mess we had a very pleasant evening chatting with him - he even put on a video for us so we got to watch The Men Who Stare at Goats. That was an amusing film, and it reminded us of the place we rode past in Indiana that was selling fainting goats.

The next morning we headed off along the bike path, and after only about 400 meters wound up having an extended chat with a guy who'd done a bit of bike touring himself, including a ride from Alice Springs to Canberra. The path wound its way along the beach, past downtown Wollongong (which seemed pretty nice actually - we stopped off in the main street to get some toiletries and thought it was a nice little place) and then continued along a slightly circuitous but verdant path down to Shellharbour where we had lunch, and Kiama. The whole coast is just brimming over with beautiful little towns, and we couldn't help noticing that everything seems very new and vital compared to the USA. It was clear when we were there that a lot of American infrastructure needs a fair bit of re-investment and repair, whereas everything looks pretty modern and well-maintained in Australia. Although it was starting to get dark, we pressed on through Gerringong, eventually finding a place to ask for directions to a nice cheap campground or a spot to turf-surf. The couple who lived there offered us the spare accmodations where there kids stay when visiting, which included a bed, bathroom, and stove to make our dinner on. So we got a hot meal and an episode of Dr Who before turning in for the night. In the morning we chatted with Malcolm about his dairy farming and then took off along the bike path beside the road. We took a brief detour to look at and wander along the beach at seven-mile beach national park.

By Yana:

We continued on our way to Nowra, where we made a quick stop at the tourist information centre, mostly for a few minutes using the internet, for some of our basic and necessary bits of communication. That done, we headed to the supermarket to top up our food supplies, then found a nearby park to have our lunch. Taking into account the rate at which we were going, we decided to aim to do 70km that day. We reached the town of Wandandian around sunset, at a little bit shy of 60km. The plan was to ride on to the other side of the Conjola National Park, and then find somewhere to pitch our tent, but that didn't eventuate. We had made a small stop at the local general store, and while we were making various phone calls, the guy running the place offered us the spot next to the shop to set ourselves up for the night. We ended up accepting. The guy, Mick, was actually very generous, and wouldn't take payment for a few items of canned fare we planned to use to supplement our dinner. Of course we always appreciate that kind of kindness, though it is also a slightly embarrassing thing when it happens, as there are times when you do want to pay. We got ourselves fed and bed ready fairly quickly, and turned in at a reasonable hour.

The following morning, we packed ourselves up only just before it started to rain lightly, which was a bit of luck. Mick arrived shortly before we were done, so we said our goodbyes, and left a few dollars and a note explaining that this was us buying him a beer - we didn't give it to him directly, as we suspected he wouldn't accept, but we wanted to give something.

We set off through the National Park, and found that as time went on, the rain slowly got heavier, until we were quite damp and cold when we reached Yatte Yattah, on the other side of the National Park. As there wasn't much going on there, we ended up pressing on to Milton, where we had a really nice lunch at a local vegetarian cafe, followed by some fish and chips, as we were also craving some hot greasy protein. At least it warmed us and dried us a bit, but the rain continued, so we got ourselves more properly decked out in our wet weather gear and pressed on despite the ickiness of it all. We headed through Ulladulla, and stayed cautiously hopeful that we might be able to make it to Batemans Bay that day. We ended up falling a little bit short, but achieving a little over 70km for the day, and stopped in a tiny little place called East Lynne for the night. It seems to be little more than a servo, but it does boast some apparently award-winning home-made pies. We arrived in time for some sausage rolls and Bundy ginger beer, then got ourselves set up in the back paddock. The owner of the servo even helped us light a fire to warm ourselves a bit, which was a bit of luxury before we crawled into our increasingly soggy tent.

The morning dawned foggy and a bit damp, and we had to accept that we'd have to roll our tent up wet. We got ourselves packed up, tried the award-winning pies fresh out of the oven, had our usual muesli breakfast as well, and rode the last 19km or so to Batemans Bay. We made a quick internet stop at the library, then took the more coastal tourist route towards Moruya. It ended up taking the better part of the day. The weather was decent, although it briefly bucketed down on us while we were having lunch, luckily sheltered under a pavilion. We waited out that squall of rain, then headed off again, and managed to stay dry. It was already getting dark when we got to Moruya, and we decided to head down the road a little further, as we weren't terribly enamoured with the idea of passing the night in an overpriced caravan park, which our map indicated was nine kilometres out of our way. We ended up going another 8km or so onwards, then stopped at a pair of houses a little off the side of the road. Stewart, the owner of the property, was happy enough for us to put up our tent, and came out for a quick chat before it started to rain again. Luckily, by then, the tent was up and there was a roof we could shelter under while making dinner. We said our goodnights when we came up to use the toilet. One of Stewart's kids was having a sticky beak under his arm, heaved a theatrical sigh, then wandered off, which made us chuckle. Apparently he wanted to ask us about our trip, but was a bit shy to talk to us.

We woke up to the sound of rain pattering on our tent, which meant that we'd be rolling it up soggy yet again. Oh well. When we were almost fully packed up and Stewart and family left for their various daytime pursuits, Stewart's mum Jan came up from the other house and offered us a shower. We gladly accepted, as we hadn't showered since Gerroa. As it happened, the TV was running, and we learned that just then, there was a Leadership Challenge happening. The upshot was that apart from having a shower and a cup of tea, we got to watch Julia Gillard become the new PM of Australia. Very cool. This did mean that we didn't get going until the early afternoon, but luckily, we were only heading for Narooma. The weather had turned sunny by then, so it was quite a pleasant day to be riding. We arrived in Bodalla for lunch, and figured it was only right to consume cheese in some way, shape or form. We decided to go for a very tasty piece of cheesecake, as well as another excellent lunch. Once we were done with that, it was past 4pm, so we had less than an hour before sundown, so we headed off on our last stretch to Narooma. We got there a little bit after dark, and found the house of some friends of Sundance's family. It's a nice change to sleep in a bed rather than the tent, I guess.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Soaking up Sydney

By Yana:

We've spent the last week hanging out here in NSW, revelling in the joy of being back in Oz.  On the Sunday of the long weekend, we went for a drive to the Blue Mountains, to be tourists in our own country.  We got started a little late, so we didn't end up having the time for a walk, but it was still good fun.  We stopped in one of the little towns at the edge of the national park, where we had hot chips with chicken salt for the first time in who knows how long.  It's funny how those tiny little things really remind you that you're in Oz.  When then drove on to the town of Katoomba, where we went and had a look at the Three Sisters.  For those of you who haven't heard of them, the Three Sisters are one of the rock formations in the Blue Mountains, three pillars which are connected to an Aboriginal dreamtime story about how a sorcerer turned three sisters into these rock pillars to protect them while a war raged around them, with the intention of turning them back into their human selves when it was over, but he died before he could do so.

We spent the Monday partly in the city, which was when we discovered just how freakishly expensive parking is in Sydney.  Yikes!  Luckily, after a bit of driving around and having to deal with the horror of Sydney's abundance of one-way streets, dead ends, and forbidden right or left turns, we found a free parking spot, and went for a wander through Sydney's Botanical Gardens.  The ones in Adelaide and Melbourne are much better, if you ask me, but it was still pleasant enough, and we got to see a couple of cockatoos, which was nice - we'd forgotten what cute faces they have!  When we got back in the evening, we found that Tony, Amanda, and Eddy were back, and Tony had another magical meal happening.  The man is a wizard in the kitchen.

On Tuesday, we decided to check out the Australian Museum.  I think we spent easily four hours wandering through there - Good thing we'd at least had one of our sandwiches beforehand, because my stomach was growling quite insistently by the end of it.  There were a few absolutely amazing photos of scientific phenomena and crazy insects, which, predictably, was probably my favourite part of the whole thing.  There was an extensive collection on Aboriginal arts, crafts, and history.  Honestly, I could only be so interested in the spiritual side of it, although I was riveted by the little videos of various indigenous folk walking through the bush, explaining various native foodplants and medicines.  And to think it's probably only a tiny fraction of the original knowledge - who knows how much as been lost due to the Stolen Generation.  Actually, there also was a framed print-out of Paul Keating's speech in Redfern, which was quite interesting to read, as you can see the bits of it that were incorporated into the song "Redfern" in the musical "Keating!".

Past the Aboriginal exhibits, we got onto the various fauna-related stuff, looking at various urchins and crabs, as well as some info about the insanely deadly critters Australia has to offer.  I am glad to say that I now know what cone shells look like, so I can steer clear of the things - apparently there is no known antidote for that deadly venom of theirs.  Eek!  There was lots of interesting stuff on Aussie fauna, including on various extinct species.  It really drives home what a shame it is about the thylacine - although I would have loved to see live versions of the various extinct megafauna Australia once had.  Apart from the obligatory dinosaur skeletons, there was also a detailed catalogue of stuffed bird species and creepy crawlies.

Wednesday, we decided to enjoy the beautiful weather by going for an extended walk.  We stopped for lunch at a cafe which had the most amazing chicken and leek pie ever - we have decided that we must learn to master pastry, simply so we can make our own pies.  We wandered through various pretty suburban streets and parklands, until we hit Circular Quay, where we met up with my friend Ben and his lady, Alanna.  We even managed to find some decent food under the price of $20, which is really saying something for that area.  Once fed, we headed to the Opera House, where there is a night-time lightshow of crazy colours and motifs projected onto it.  Honestly, I thought it was nowhere near as great  as the Northern Lights display in Adelaide a few years back, but it was still nifty in parts.  We wandered back to the train station, grabbed some gelati, and then headed home, saying our fairwells to Ben and Alanna when we had to get off the train.

We spent Thursday fairly productively, getting provisions for the next leg of our trip, that kind of thing.  We also spent a bit of quality time window shopping, before we headed to the bike shop to collect our bikes and take them back to the apartment.  By then, we had to hurry, as Tony had made us a reservation at Bilson's.  Miraculously, we made it on time, and sat down for possibly the best meal of our lives to date.  I'm not going to go into huge detail right now, as there were nine courses involved, each of them exquisitely detailed little works of culinary art, but let's just say that we went home in a daze.  Wonderful stuff.

Today, we've been getting a few of those fiddly little bits of work before heading off done.  If all goes well, we'll be getting to Wollongong tonight. 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

My Island Home

By Sundance:

Part 1: Yana in Hana

Total distance on Maui: 183.12 km
Total distance: 7381.8 km

What with our change of plans and flight schedules, we decided to unpack our bikes and take a tour around the south-east part of Maui, to get out of Garrett and Crystal's hair, and take advantage of the extra time we had up our sleeves.

But first, Yana's birthday. On the Monday, we headed out to the Emerald falls again in our rented car to wander through the bamboo groves and frolic in the water. After that we drove back through Paia and went to Mana foods in search of vegan key lime pie to serve as Yana's birthday cake. They were all out, but instead we got an amazing little ginger cake which went down extremely well.

On Tuesday the rental car had to be returned, so we headed to kite beach in the morning, and I got in some more kite surfing practice before returning the car, then wandered back to the beach for some more kiting. I actually managed to stand upright for about 25 seconds, which was a great feeling, and made me think that I might be getting the hang of it.

Wednesday and the early part of Thursday were taken up with unpacking and reassembling our bikes, and by Thursday afternoon we headed off from Makawao through Pukalani (to get some supplies), then uphill towards Kula. As it was a late start, we didn't go very far, and hunted around a little in Kula for a place to camp for the night. We settled on a local church, where we were given permission to set up our tent for the night. The next morning we set off again through pleasant bushland, to the south coast of the island. The road started off nicely but eventually deteriorated into broken pavement, coupled with a persistent headwind (which we expected, given the prevailing wind direction on Maui), dry terrain, and frequent hills. It wasn't fun, especially as the broken bitumen stopped us from building up speed on the downhill stretches to tackle the uphill stretches with. Eventually we made it to Kaupo and a general store where we made lunch and purchased a couple of frozen fruit icy-poles. We were even treated to a view across the sea to The Big Island, and a rainbow (visible below the horizon!) letting us know that we were entering the wet, lush side of the island. We rode on further and a dirt road (which we agreed was better than the broken pavement) and eventually found a place to turf-surf about 10 km south-west of Hana, on a property with a dog who's bark was worse than her bite, and a horse that didn't belong to the owner of the property, but just seemed to like hanging around there.

On Saturday morning we made our way into Hana, scouted around for more supplies at the two general stores in town, and hung out a bit drinking a smoothie to recharge our batteries before heading onwards. A little way past Hana we detoured to a local state park so that I could take a dip in the ocean at a black sand beach, as I felt we had better enjoy being by the beach, what with the weather being hot and tropical and all that. A bit further on we pulled into a roadside food stand, to discover that we'd been leapfrogging a pair of hitch-hikers who we'd noticed in Hana. We chatted a bit with them and then settled down to a plate of chicken, while they caught a ride further ahead. After riding onwards, we found ourselves more and more surrounded by beautiful rainforest and vistas overlooking the sea. At one point we stopped to look at a gorgeous waterfall cascading to the side of the road, and refill our water bottles from the water running off the nearby rock faces. As it was starting to get dark, we looked for another turf-surf a couple of kilometers further along the road. Selecting a friendly-looking house, Yana knocked on the door, and we were welcomed in by Charles, who told us that he and his wife, Linda, were avid travellers too (though they tend to go kayaking in South-East Asia), and would be glad to put us up for the night and share traveller's tales. We had a fantastic evening chatting with them, a comfy night sleeping on a futon in one of their numerous spare rooms, and after breakfast Linda showeed us around her studio where she does wonderful paintings of beach scenes.

The rest of the day we wound our way along the Hana highway, back into familiar territory. We stopped at Ho'okipa beach to watch the windsurfers playing, then made our way into Paia for a gelati (finally using the $5 I'd been given as a birthday gift for its intended purpose!) and dinner at the delightful Des Amis cafe. They have a limited menu, but their Greek platters are amazing! After dark we headed back up the side of Mt. Haleakala to Garrett and Crystal's place, and after making a start on disassembling the bikes, turned in for the night.

Monday was taken up pretty much completely with packing. We re-boxed the bikes, then fiddled with the remaining luggage, trying to make our carry-on and checked baggage fit within the size and weight allowances. By Monday evening we were ready, and headed to the airport to drop off our checked baggage before heading to the Whole Foods Market in Kahului to have an all-too-quick sit-down dinner with Garrett and Crystal. Then it was back off to the airport for our flight to Honolulu. We collected our bags upon arrival, loaded it on a trolley, and found ourselves a moderately comfy-looking couple of benches in the vicinity of the JetStar check-in counter to wait out the night. Our flight was fairly early Tuesday morning, so thankfully we didn't have to sleep too much (we couldn't have if we'd tried!) before it was farewell America.

Thanks America. We had a great time. Despite your often bad reputation in the rest of the world, we can honestly say that we found Americans to be among the kindest, friendliest, and most generous people we've ever met. It's been a delightful experience. But, by the same token, there's no place like home...

Part 2: No matter how far, or how wide I roam, I still call Australia home.

It's a ten-and-a-half hour flight from Honolulu to Sydney. A pretty uneventful one at that. We watched some videos on the inflight entertainment and our laptop. We crossed the International Date Line (and the equator) and Tuesday became Wednesday. And eventually we spotted a sliver of land that we knew to be the coast north of Sydney. There was a mixed feeling. It was nice to be so close to home, and yet, at the same time I'd hoped so much to be seeing that sliver of land from the deck of a sailing vessel, instead of a seat in a passenger jet, that I couldn't fight off a twinge of disappointment.

Land. Gather bags. Disembark. Present customs arrival cards. Collect baggage. Collect Bikes. Wait in line at customs/quarantine inspection (we even met a guy who worked there who is planning to ride from Vancouver to San Diego later this year). And then we were through, officially back on Terra Australis.

My favourite part of Sydney airport is the ramp into the public arrivals lounge. Over the ramp are a series of banners, half of which bear the slogan "G'day. Welcome Home". Those three words mean an awful lot.

It was 5:30pm and we were both ravenous. We threw ourselves at the nearest eatery, marvelling at the absence of Burger King and other now-familiar American brands, and the profusion of roasted vegetable foccacias, meat pies, and fruit salad with real yoghurt - and not a drop of high-fructose corn syrup in any of it! The food tasted glorious, and we decided that yes, everything really was as good as we remembered it. Eventually we had to get organised, and we got a taxi-van ride out to my uncle Tony's place where we're staying while we get under control for the ride back to Adelaide. We slept soundly. The following day we got a lift into town, and caught up with my mate Stewart (from my PhD days) for lunch, then wandered around Darling Harbour until sunset, and upon returning home were treated to a lamb roast that Tony whipped up which had to be tasted to be believed. On Friday morning we started reassembling our bikes, and Tony and family took off for weekend away (it being a long weekend). We have spent the rest of Friday and Today taking care of small necessities - getting a new Australian mobile phone number, dropping our bikes off at a bike shop to get some worn parts replaced, lunch with Yana's uni friend Ben, and wandering around soaking up the atmosphere of Sydney, with its slight sheen of pre-World Cup excitement. Tomorrow we may head out to the Blue Mountains and be tourists. But whatever we do, it's nice to be woken by the sound of kookaburras in the trees outside.