Thursday, June 27, 2013

There's No Place Like Noosa

This is an echidna, I e-kid ya not.
I'd been warned, I mean promised, that Oz is the perfect moniker for Australia because it's truly like another world.

We are finding this to be delightfully true. Take our sighting of an echidna. While it wasn't as dramatic as our kangaroo encounter, it was just as thrilling because these little buggers are as elusive as Greta Garbo.

Like the platypus, the echidna is a monotreme--a mammal that lays eggs. Now that's an animal that thinks outside the box.

All things Oz:  On our hike, these trees reminded me
of the ones that threw their apples at Dorothy.

When we told our our lunch waiter about the echidna, he  grabbed our camera to show his coworkers. I might have detected a little jealousy when he declared, "Many people live in Australia their whole lives and never see one!"

When we first saw the adorable rabbit-sized creature while walking in Noosa National Park, it buried its head in the dirt giving it the appearance of a round, spiky plant. Eventually it pulled its head out and waddled off.

Wild, dozing koala

As if that wasn't enough, we also saw a koala high in a gum (eucalyptus) tree! So cute, and yet so far. I yearned to hold Tinkerbell once again.

The exotic bird songs you hear everywhere add to the feeling you're in a fabled land. Our mascot bird--the bird we've seen everywhere--is the striking magpie. Dave caught a quite elegant shot of one today.  (If you keep reading, you'll see it).


We also saw something that looks just like a heron, but we are never sure if our American labels are correct for Australian creatures.

We have learned, however, that these colorful "parrots" are actually rainbow lorikeets. They live as couples, and we saw two pairs today in the park as we were walking home.

Rainbow lorikeets are monogamous and mate for life.

Home for these days in Noosa is a room in a five-bedroom house dubbed The Pink Palace--our first Airbnb adventure. Comfy bed, our own bathroom, clean sheets and towels...and inexpensive as all get-out.  It feels kind of like staying in a friend's house, and kind of like being in a boarding house--with multiple decks, large kitchen, dining room, and TV family room for all to share.

The owners--Gabby and Mark--have traveled widely, including a two-month stint in China. They went with another couple (not a tour group) and made no hotel reservations in advance. They entered via Vietnam, and even though they speak only English, they were able to eat good food, always find places to stay, and meet new people.  And I thought we were adventurous! Soon they are going to rent out the whole house and head to Europe for an indeterminate amount of time.

regal mascot

Also staying here is a young guy going to university, and a couple (she's American, he's French) who've been doing a lot of traveling. Now they are working toward Australian residency which involves, she says, proving she has a university degree and "skills," and paying a series of bureaucrats "a bunch of money."

Once they get residency, they can live here long-term without feeling they are being forced to marry in order to live together longer than three months at a time in France or the U.S. (Also, once they are residents, they can avail themselves of Australia's fabulous health-care system that is, ahem, free.)

Have I mentioned that Noosa is, like, totally beautiful?

The more people we meet, the more I'm being reminded that there are as many paths down the yellow brick road as there are travelers.  People make their dreams come true by believing they are possible.  And by being creative--as creative as mother nature when she dreamed up incredible creatures like the echidna.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Hanging Out With Koalas

Good thing I practice "the tree" in yoga.

"Be a tree."

That was the advice of the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary employee while positioning my limbs (arms) in preparation for a koala to perch on me.

Her name was Tinkerbell.  And the minute I felt the trusting weight of her compact body lean into me, I fell in love.

Why do so many people go nuts over koalas?  Perhaps because they are insanely cute. And they smell--so adorable!--like cough drops.  I think the fact that they are marsupials adds to their allure.  How delightful is the fact that they carry their young in a pouch?

Munching on eucalyptus, ergo the cough drop scent.

Koalas spend most of their time sleeping, especially during the warmest parts of the day. For that reason, we'd heard they might not be very active. A cool day played in our favor.  We saw them eating and moving about.  But we also saw plenty koalas endearingly snoozing while curled up in tree limbs.


This sanctuary is an awesome place.  There are many amazing animals to see.  We were able to get up close to raptors and dingoes that park employees walked around with.

Can get up to 85 K (190 pounds) and 190 cm  (75 inches ) tall.

Dave was especially thrilled to get to see--finally--the Southern Cassowary.  This colorful, large, flightless bird is the only bird in Australia that ever killed a man.  That was in 1926 so it's really not something to lose sleep over.

We also saw various other birds, wombats, a Tasmanian devil (which looks nothing like the cartoon version), platypuses, and kangaroos.

so soft
The kangaroos--and a few emus--hang out in a large enclosure that you can walk around in.  You can pet these docile creatures who are clearly used to people.  That was quite a contrast to having seen kangas in the wild.

Getting to the sanctuary was fun because--although you can drive or take a bus--we chose to ride a boat up the Brisbane River. 

The boat ride takes about an hour.  It's a lovely experience, floating past the city and under numerous bridges that are architectural wonders.  As you leave the downtown, the river is lined with beautiful foliage and amazing homes. 

Dave's got photo skills.
The riverboat captain noticed a boa in a tree and stopped to allow people to take photos.  I heard it was off-season for snakes, but this one didn't get the memo.

When we returned to downtown, we walked around the city, just exploring.  Before we knew it, the sun was setting.  And we experienced a final treat:  the splendor of Brisbane at night.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Cavorting with Kangaroos in the Wild

Cape Hillsborough
It was dawn.  We stood on a vast beach, just the two of us, next to a dramatically time-sculpted volcanic rock, watching the sky brighten.  Suddenly we heard a “thump, thump, thump.”  What the heck?  A kangaroo went jumping by.  Then another.  Then another.  The trio whizzed by us, along the gently-lapping water line.   We looked at each other:  No way! 

hanging with wallabies and roos

As we followed in their path, tears sprung to my eyes.  I felt the answer to my unasked question:  Why were we doing this again?  Why had we left our home and friends and family and beloved seaside town?

This was why. For experiences like this.

We spent at least 45 minutes watching these exotic-to-us beasts.  At one point, as Dave filmed, they came hopping toward us.  Closer and closer.  Almost like they were charging us.  

I’ve seen scary videos on TV of people getting kick-boxed by kangaroos and for a second imagined that might happen to us.  But earlier we’d seen one kanga and six wallabies on this same beach who’d run up to a guy who had barley to feed them.  So I was pretty sure this trio of kangas was just hoping for a free lunch.  

Dave, on the other hand, wasn't concerned at all. He felt they were just curious.

Still, I positioned myself behind him, just in case.  He fashions himself to be a Dr. Dootlittle, so I let him deal with the possible consequences of being a talk-to-the-animals sort. 

In this video, you can see why I wasn't sure what direction it was going. You can see the animals running toward us with the camera trained on them. When front-runner reaches Dave, he drops the camera down and laughs saying, in Dr. Doolittle fashion, “What do you want, buddy?” Indeed, the kanga sniffed Dave, instead of KO’ing him with a spring-release foot.

After my heart stopped palpitating, I stood in awe.  Did we really just have that experience?  Two California natives interacting with kangaroos for the first time--in the wild?  On the beach at sunrise?  

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Exploring Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef

Hundreds gathered every night in the treetops by our Cairns hotel.

After almost a week in Brisbane, it was time to explore other parts of Australia.  So we hopped on a Qantas plane and flew two hours north to Cairns.

(Pronounced Cans.  I noticed that sometimes--as in the case of Cairns--Australians omit the r.  And other times, they add an r where one doesn’t belong.  For example, they call their country Austral-yer.)

surreal Cairns waterscape

Cairns is like Hilo-meets-Honolulu with a dash of Reno.  Meaning:

* it rains when the sun is out;
* the trees are packed with screeching, exotic birds for a Hitchcock-version-of-Jurassic-Park sensation;
* the downtown is teeming with a requisite number of international tourists and hippies (meaning all the food is expensive, even the veggie burgers);
* it boasts a gorgeous public waterfront area;
* and in the shadows lurk sketchy characters and strip clubs.

Cairns public swimming area

At the Cairns harbor, we took a snorkel boat tour to the Great Barrier Reef.  We sat with a newlywed couple--he’s from Spain, she from Lebanon--who were on a 32-day honeymoon.  We also met a young couple who met while they were both taking a “gap year” to travel Europe; he’s Australian, she’s Brazilian. It made me feel very internationale since we, too, are doing the extended travel thing.  

I asked the “gap year” couple for a highlight of their travels, and he said they especially loved Berlin, which happens to be where they met.  Startlingly, though, neither one of them had seen Cabaret or read Isherwood’s Berlin Stories.  Perhaps, based on my recommendation, they will now.

mermaid and merman
The seas were rough.  I thought I was over my seasick days, but I soon learned that ninety minutes on a bucking bronco is my limit.  But popping a couple of pills given to me by the crew fixed me right up.  In fact, the crew was great, and even when I was feeling queasy I was aware of what a privilege it was to be on the Great Barrier Reef--much less in a fancy boat being fed coffee, muffins, and a delightful lunch by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable group of young people.

First stop was Michaelmas Cay, then next was our favorite:  Hastings Reef.  As I watched my husband jump with finesse into the water, I was reminded of how this mermaid married a merman.  Watching him so in his element as he dove expertly down to the reef to snap pictures was a joy.  In that moment, I fell in love with him all over again.

Dave has scuba dived in many places all over the world, and we saw something he’d never seen before:  a giant clam, open to reveal its pulsing siphon and purplish blue scalloped edges.  (Later, Dave told me that those blue edges are actually its multiple eyes.  Who knew?)  With its luscious curves and wavering interior, it doesn’t take much imagination to understand why the giant clam is associated with womanly sensuality.

We also encountered a (squool?) of squid, to the special delight of Dave since he’d seen such squidliness only once before.  It was all new to me, so I was in a non-ending state of delight.  

The corals and fish were extravagantly colorful and varied.  When we drifted over the edge of the reef, the sea opened out into an indigo infinity, creating the sensation of flying into the abyss.  Nothingness and everything-ness became the same thing.  I hung there, feeling the moment embrace me.  And I thought of how it all felt like a line by Alan Watts that I’d read just the night before:

“The now-moment is eternity, and one must see it now or never.”

Friday, June 7, 2013

In the Land of Oz

"The French have a different word for everything," proclaimed Steve Martin with faux astonishment in one of his comedy routines.

Smiling in Brisbane, even with burned, straight hair.
That line keeps going through my head as we explore Brisbane.  Ostensibly Americans and Australians speak the same language, but when Gloria gave me half of something that looked just like a papaya and called it a "paw paw," I knew we weren't in Kansas anymore.

Paw paws are very yummy here, especially with lime.

When you use a credit card, you have to proclaim "credit" immediately or the clerk says something that sounds like "saav-ens, creee-deet or xweoimns" and looks at you expectantly.  We figured out that "saav-ens" is "savings," synonymous for "debit card."  The second choice is "credit" and the third must mean, "Pay with your first-born."

We are staying in the home of our generous friend, Mark, while he's in London performing a series of piano concerts.  He left us a lovely welcome gift of a basket of Australian "lollies" (bags of candy) along with three bottles of Australian wine and three of his piano CDs.

And two coffee mugs:  One that says "Happiness is the way not a destination" and the other "I [heart] the universe."  No question, Mark is of our tribe.

He relegated one job to me:  Make Gloria--his 90-year-old "mum" who lives in the unit downstairs--a cup of coffee each morning.  I was delighted to be given this task until I encountered the massive chrome machine.  I felt like a time traveler from 1850 transported to 2013, asked to get behind the wheel of a Maserati.

The directions he'd written out to operate the monstrosity rivaled a Microsoft Word user's manual.  Not only that, but you can't just plug in things here.  You have to turn on the electrical switch next to the  outlet.

Speaking of outlets, the current here is a raging animal.  I discovered that when, while curling my hair, the top plastic piece of my curling iron melted off into my hand.  When I pulled the metal barrel away from my head, a chunk of my hair came with it.

I'll spare you the details of the finding-a-curling-iron-in-Brisbane saga that came next, but if anyone ever came close to a divorce over a hair appliance ...

Fortunately, we chalked up the literal and figurative melt-down to jet lag and quickly re-found newly married bliss.

In the face of these Australian differences, I'm being quite enterprising.  When I discovered that "half and half" does not exist here, I made my own by mixing a carton of cream (which is an eerie yellowish color) with a carton of milk (which is the usual white).

parrot in Gloria's garden
Every morning we wake to cacophonous birdsong emanating from the lush green yard.  That in and of itself reminds me I'm "elsewhere"--the merry old land of Oz.

We've had some lovely days exploring beautiful Brisbane.  One day was in the company of Simone--a former student of mine--and Beci, an Australian we were introduced to via an American friend.  To greet Simone (whom I'd last seen on my California campus) and Beci (whom we'd "met" only on Facebook) was surreal and wonderful.

with Simone and Beci

It's been just a week since we left our home to embark on our world travel adventure.  Yes, there are times Santa Cruz drifts through my mind, and I feel a pang of missing home--even though we no longer have a home there.

It's funny, though, how soon some other place begins to feel like home.  Just this morning as he stood in the kitchen in his cozy sweatpants and sweatshirt brewing tea, Dave said: "It's strange, but it feels like we live here now."

The humongous chrome coffee maker is now my friend.  I  pronounce "Cairns" (where we're headed tomorrow) "Cahns" like a native.  We've done yoga in the living room (on our newly-purchased yoga mats) which adds a home-vibe to anywhere.  It's these little settling-in details that create a wonderful balance of freshness and familiarity.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

G'day from Australia!

Dave and Gloria
I actually slept on the plane, with the medicinal help of my doctor. Yay, Doc! We both feel pretty good even though we crossed the international dateline, flew for 14 hours, then took a train and a cab into Brisbane.

The 90-year-old mother of our friend Mark greeted us. Mark is out of town but letting us stay at his place. His mother told me she wants to trade Mark for Dave. 

I said "No way, I just married him last year." 

She said, "Too bad you didn't marry him 10 years ago, then you might be willing!"

We went on a walk in the neighborhood, had a lovely breakfast/lunch/dinner (my internal clock is making no clear categorizations), and drank caffeine in the hopes we can stay awake until bedtime to allay jet lag.

I like how the young barista called me "sweetheart" and how people here say "no worries" in place of "no problem" or "you're welcome."

It's cool and sunny here, kind of like Santa Cruz. The birds sound tropical, and the lush vegetation adds to that sense. The hilliness and urban chic in this 'hood remind us of Seattle.

Now we are chillin' in Mark's place, listening to him play piano on CD (he's a concert pianist).  Just a few days in, and I'm already very inspired and have been writing like a maniac on the new Travel Adventure Book.


Sunday, June 2, 2013

You know you're in L.A. when...

Nancy & Kate, friends since high school, in Nancy's studio.

You know you're in L.A. when:

* You are the only pedestrians on your three-block walk to the store.

* Your friend takes you for a spin in his new Maserati--and then lets you get behind the wheel.

* You valet park at the grocery store.

* You play with puppets at your friend's art studio.

* That friend takes you to a vast art gallery complex where you have a fabulous organic salad in the outdoor cafe.

* And then you walk around, taking in a wild array of art.

* And as you walk into each gallery, the person behind the counter (the "gallerist") may or may not acknowledge you.

* The most expensive clothes look like stylishly tattered rags.

Dave with the boys in the band.

* You pop in on a dive bar, and your friends are playing in the band.

* You say to a guy you just met, "Has anyone ever told you that you look like Dustin Hoffman?" and he says, "Yeah, I've heard that.  But when I met Dustin and we stood side-by-side, people didn't really think so."

* The dinner guests are a) a photographer and b) an artist whose sculptures are installed all over the world.

* The dinner party is outdoor at night, followed by communing around the fire pit and a dip in the jacuzzi.

Next stop:  Brisbane, Australia!