Aussie Dreaming Part One
Trip Start Aug 01, 2006
35Trip End Dec 29, 2006
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Tired from an overnight plane, sitting on plastic chairs outside one of those nondescript airport cafeterias, we spent the morning trying to figure out where to rent a campervan. This decision would have lasting negative repercussions that ended in us losing two days and many kilometers.
We went the cheap route and decided to go with Wicked Vans. They rent vans that have been modified to become campers and have the unique distinction of being spray painted like a graffiti-splattered New York subway train
However the van did gain us a limited notoriety. We pulled into a supermarket to buy the necessities of life for living out of a car. As we were leaving two kids rode up to our van in complete awe. "Is that your van?" One asked. I responded, "No we rented it" The kids' imagination was further inflamed, "You can rent that? That's (some Australian slang I don't remember or couldn't understand)" He then thought for a moment, "where're you from mate" I borrowed Collette's patented response and said we were from Santa Cruz California. The excitement was palatable and he almost shouted," Do you know Pamela Anderson?" I nodded sadly, "No"
Once in Byron Bay we walked out onto one of the major beaches bordering the main town to let Collette go to a playground. There right in front of us was our first encounter with a stereotypical Aussie. He had big boots on, wool socks pulled up as high as they could reach onto his thigh, a shirt with lots of pockets tucked into shorts with lots of pockets, and a big floppy bush hat. The whole ensemble was of brown earth tones. Every stitch had a purpose and the outfit was completely utilitarian with little concern for aesthetics. This was the antithesis of everything we saw in Rome where everything looked great but you couldn't run in it. He looked like the crocodile hunter. I didn't expect to see someone dressed exactly like a travel brochure but I was proved wrong time and time again. Later we got used to it and didn't think much of it except for the wide and unusual assortment of hats. To not wear a funny floppy broad brimmed hat marks you as unusual and an outsider. Even the school children wore big brimmed hats with their English looking uniforms. I know this because as we walked by a middle school on an ill-advised search for a play center I saw a girl crying into her hat
Everybody raves about Byron Bay. We found it to be just so-so, 50%, just OK, and so on. It had some remnants of Santa Cruz such as a lot of crystal shops and new age bookstores and a place offering Aura Photography. We also noticed a peculiar observation that the majority of the town seemed to be under twenty. I started to ponder all the science fiction stories where they get rid off (Star Trek), eat (Solent Green) or generally kill (Logan's Run) the elderly. The answer to the riddle was not as elaborate as my imagination or that of the science fiction community. This was our introduction to schoolies. Schoolies are kids who have just graduated high school and are out to celebrate this high academic achievement by getting drunk and flirting. Huge tour busses would disgorge them in the middle of the town and then at night we would see them lined up outside the nightclub. The girls all decked out in pastel dresses & leggings from the eighties and the guys wearing a t-shirt and board shorts. They seemed reasonably well behaved compared to their US equivalents.
I surfed a beach break on a choppy wind swell
Later that evening while in the caravan park we discovered that we couldn't open the back of the van. This was a serious problem because all of our food and camping gear were in the back. The van was mocking; we could see our bags of food and the gleam of cheap aluminum pans through the rear window. In addition the sleeping arrangement was not good. They advertised it could sleep three adults but there was only one large bed. All of us were sleeping on a large foam pad like a hillbilly family and little miss Kicky McGee was making sure our sleep time limited. Ohh yeah, the dome lights didn't work. Isn't that why we had the industrial revolution? Looking for your toothbrush by starlight doesn't cut it. After talking with Wicked who said they could send a replacement van "the day after tomorrow" we made a command decision. Instead of spending the time we have in Australia dealing with the van we decided to drive back to Brisbane and go with another company. Crap, more driving, less surfing, and lost days.
The camper van we finally rented was efficient and not of an ungainly size. It had a sink, a large bed, a bed for Collette, refrigerator, and a gas stove. Some of the warning stickers on it gave me pause and concern. My favorite was "Do not swerve to avoid Kangaroos". The large kangaroo guard on the front added an exclamation point. In less poetic terms the Wicked van sticker said," Do not swerve to avoid a kangaroo; if you do you are a dickhead and will roll four times."
We finally made it past Byron Bay to find a way out of the way caravan park named Sandalwood. It contained an odd assortment of permanent trailers, custom vans/mobile homes and hybrids of both. Resembling a farm more than a campsite it contained a barn, pens of cows and horses, a main farmhouse, and lots of green space. It was like visiting an uncle and within thirty minutes the owner knew our names and already told me how his wife was a marine biologists from Cairns. He had also taken Collette to see the newly born colt as it stood uncertainly on twig like angular legs. The horses name was Harry Trotter because of a white birthmark on its forehead on an otherwise brown body. Collette bubbled over with the news telling me she saw a horse and what the horse looked like, what the horse did, and if the horse ate. A sign of the coziness of the place was the bathrooms. They were spotless, had fresh picked flowers in them and even had bathtubs. Later as I pushed Collette in a swing and was incessantly eaten by sand flies and mozzies I chatted with one of the local residence as he pushed his daughter and swatted his extremities. The conversation was just chatting but it was peasant and gave Collette time to bond with her new friend. When it was time to leave we had to pull her away from the trailer and her new friend as she wailed like an Italian police car and hot tears streaked her face. Sandalwood was our first glimpse into what appeared to be the Australian countryside and it was a relaxing and awarding experience.
Christy highly approved of the next trailer park (called caravan park in Australian) that offered "ensuite" bathrooms. Our own little building next to our van. Collette also was excited for the play room, including little cars that the toddlers could get into traffic accidents and then fight (average time between tears was about five minutes), two playgrounds, and two swimming pools. The one pool had two water slides. Collette was dubious of them at first and kept her distance like a cat from a dog until we tried it once. As we started to pick up speed I could feel her little body tighten up on my lap. We hit the water and I searched for a reaction from her to see how she liked it and I was rewarded by laughter. After that the only word she said between giggles was "again!" As we were swimming the wind began to pick up until leaves stated skiting the water like water bugs and then pieces of branches and then the air was swarming with palm tree parts. The wind continued to climb in ferocity and the sound intensified like a giant animal moaning. Noticing we were the only ones left in the pool we scrambled out and sought the sanctuary of the van. The rest of the evening the van rocked to the wind and small whistles emanated from the cracks. The windstorm was exciting and created quite a stir. Every time there was a lull in a conversation I would mention what about the windstorm. "ohhh yeah mate quite the odd blow and I fancy doollow wooliky (and a bunch of other words I don't understand)"
The next morning we went into town. A classical looking fifties town that had one main street, a surf shop, fish and chips, souvenir shop, a record store and a few other odd shops. After Byron Bay relaxation seemed to emanate from the town and we spent an afternoon exploring and trying to get Collette out of any store that had toys in it. In a very short period of time she had memorized which were good store toys and now we couldn't even pass by them without an outstretched finger toward her desired direction, then denial and then a thirty percent chance of tears. To my delight the surf shop was all tuff lights and I fondled every board in the shop like a long lost lover. Here I was given an example of the Aussie temperament. The surf shop owner would go in and out of the store on errands. In the meantime his wife and kid were manning the register. I asked her some questions about a trade-in. She went and got her husband and I asked him my questions (too complicated to go into here but I now had two boards) and my interest in the Weber board. He said, "Oh mate, I don't have the 6'6" but I got the 6'4", you can give her a go." I excitedly responded, "You mean I can rent the 6'4"? He looked at my incredulously with a look as if to say we don't operate that way here mate this is Australia and said, "No rent, you can just take it out." I vowed to myself I would do just that.
The beach was the typical Aussie postcard: A long white beach that crunched under your feet like walking on bleached flower, clear blue water, and a rocky outcropping on one end. A few guys were out on the small odd angled beach break and I was just happy to be there and have a chance to surf.
The next day brought in increase in swell but the dreaded winds were left over from the previous night so I couldn't borrow the board. We drove further south to Angourie. A famous right point break that had size but also was full of chop and unsettled conditions. I had a very difficult time figuring out the break as it broke close to the boulders and getting my footing. Everybody was in full suits and I had trunks and a vest and the water was unseasonable cold, a situation that plagued us most of the way. Later on I figured that the last shop sold me warm water wax and the next shop sold me cold water wax and some of my slipping was due to poor wax decisions. I was busy psychologically beating myself about my surfing when a big Aussie walked by carrying a larger gun hybrid walked by. I complained and he was all smiles and said that was the best surf they had gotten in four months and it was fun. The message to me was loud and clear, "get over it mate, have another go." I was happier, learned something and my pouting faded. Thanks mate.