Dear Erol: Why haven't you blogged more from Australia? Dear Reader (who doesn't really exist - this is essentially me talking to myself): quite frankly I've been having way too much fun! And we've been in the car. For 3,600km i.e. a lot. And, to my utter confusion, I was stuck in bizarro world where mere survival was my primary concern.
For those of you who aren't Seinfeld (or DC Comics) fans, bizarro world is a world that looks and feels familiar but is slightly off. For Elaine, it was her three new friends that were almost exactly like Jerry, George and Kramer. Almost. For me, Australia is bizarro world.
In traveling down under, I expected the toilet to flush counter clockwise, for people to have cool accents, and for steering wheels to steer from the right. What I did not expect was that the place would be so eerily familiar. At times almost exactly like the US. Almost.
Here's an example:
We thought that the best way to see the country would be to rent a car and make our way through lazy small town - with the general store next to the one pump gas station next to the neighborhood of one story homes with large yards - after lazy small town. Beaches full of domestic tourists (and lots of kids... everywhere) on a break from school. Semis tracking police radars and testing speed limits. Genuine southern hospitality. Seemingly endless windy roads followed by a straight stretch of endless sky followed by a truck stop.
This would be entirely normal for me, except that I'm not talking about a road trip through Texas... This is Australia!
After a great few days in Sydney, we flew to Brisbane and drove right up to Airlee Beach in our pursuit of yet another box (the one next to 'Great Barrier Reef') checked off the list. Nothing bizarro about the reef, mates... just pure amazingness!
Cruise Whitsundays afforded us the (admittedly very touristy/full of vacationing children) opportunity to see the outer reef, something that is not really an option from most places along the 2,300km long collection of barrier reefs that are collectively known as 'Great'. Essentially what that meant is that we took a boat out 3 hours into what felt like the middle of the ocean, only to find... well... you really have to see it to believe it. And to think that almost everything we saw scuba-/snorkel-ing is currently (or was once) a living organism? In. Cred. Ible.
In keeping with our with our 'we have backpacks but aren't really backpackers' theme, we concluded our day on the reef with a helicopter ride back to the mainland, flying over the appropriately named/shaped 'heart reef' and spotting a few breeching humpback whales along the way.
But, after that quick detour into 'amazingness', we were back on the Bruce Highway and thus back into 'bizarro'. Roadside motels that should've been $35/night but were actually 5 times that price. Passing Sunday (i.e. slow) drivers on the highway, just doing so on the right rather than the left. Townspeople waving to us exclusively with their left hands... ok, I might've made that one up.
Skippy (an old Iraq era friend) and Shiralee's town of Amamoor was no exception to the bizarro. In addition to all of the above, we happened to be there on July 4th, the most American of American holidays where sports are watched, arteries are clogged and fireworks are enjoyed. Minus the latter, our lovely hosts facilitated the most non-traditional (i.e. bizarro), traditional independence day I've ever had. There was actually football on the tele, only it was the Queensland Maroons playing the NSW Blues in the clincher of the Origins series, rugby league (i.e. football to most Aussies) style... not the Cowboys against the Redskins. And grilled steaks, potato salad and more chips/dip than I've had in years nicely facilitated the clogging of arteries. Top it off with a quick ride on the Harley the next day? God Bless America (and Australia of course)!
Last but not least, the hospitality of our friends was, in a word, overwhelming. After spending a bit more than planned on everything (!) thanks to the obnoxiously strong Aussie$, not only was spending a few nights with Skippy/Shiralee and the fantastic Kelly family in Uralla refreshing to our pocket books, it was a welcome foree back into the land of families and friends, something missing since Thailand (much like distance in DC is measured by the number of Starbucks in any given route, I've started measuring the passing of time in terms of countries).
I guess I shouldn't be surprised... after all Skippy is quick to tell you that Aussies are the real purveyors of southern hospitality!