Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wild Wild West Wyalong

Teri - On Friday, December 19th, Chris and I showed up in West Wyalong, New South Wales. West Wyalong is a small mining town about six hours west of Sydney (or closer to twelve hours by a delayed train and bus combination!) We went to visit my girlfriend Kelly, her husband Jay, and sons Jack and Sam. Kelly and I lived across the hall from each other in Rez at Tache Hall back in the day, we were bridesmaids in each other's weddings, and even though we don't get to see each other very often, I still consider her a great friend. Kelly and her family moved to Australia just under a year ago, and a trip Down Under would not have been complete without paying them a visit!

After pounding the tourist trail up the east coast of Australia, it was really fun and refreshing for Chris and I to head inland and experience Australia 'un-cut'. Up the coast, most of the people we met were other tourists, but in West Wyalong, we got to meet some locals and experience small-town life while drinking beer at the pub, tagging along with Kelly and her family on their errands, and even attending the annual Wilga Street Block Party!
West Wyalong is seriously HOT in the summer, and the warm weather seems to cultivate residents who are unfailingly warm and friendly. I was also impressed by how a population of about 3000 supports such a vibrant downtown with many busy shops, cafes and pubs. We had a great time getting out and about as well as just chillin' with Kelly, Jay, Jack, Sam, and Kelly's parents Dan and Moe, who also happened to be visiting from Canada, and who I've also known for years. Chris had fun playing cricket with the boys while I enjoyed catching up with my good friend over good coffee.

*In the one picture I am trying to wrap my lips around a steak sandwich with 'the Lot', which is Australian for a fried egg, pickled beet and pineapple. It may sound strange, but it was delicious!

*The duck is Buster, a Wilga Street resident. There were some anxious moments when Buster's owners served up roast duck at the block party. Fortunately little Buster showed up unharmed a little while later, and everyone could have a laugh over the prank!

On Monday evening we said farewell to our friends and West Wyalong and boarded yet another bus, this time bound for Adelaide in South Australia...Stay tuned for yet more adventures... ;)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Xmas from Adelaide!

Merry Christmas from Adelaide!!!
Well, as unexpected as it seemed, Christmas did indeed arrive in Adelaide, Australia without snow, freezing temperatures or egg nog!
We are lucky enough to have the hospitality of my good friend Rod Harker and his wife Anna who have generously let us settle into their home for a week. Teri and I are also being spoiled by the Steads - Darren, Leanne, Jack and Brooke - who have chauffeured us around to various family gatherings and allowed us to infiltrate their home! When I lived in Australia in 1995-96, I played baseball with both Rod and Darren and we have managed to keep in touch over the years. Rod has visited Canada a couple times in 1997 and 2001, and Darren and Leanne had also visited back in 1997 during their honeymoon (they even helped sandbag during the flood of the century!) We also caught up with Cherril Stead, Darren's mum, who put up (and put up with!) Mike and I for 8 months when we were here playing baseball in 95-96. It's great seeing her again.
We started Xmas day with a cup of coffee at Rod & Anna's in the backyard sunshine before heading over to the Steads to spend the day with Darren, Leanne, Jack & Brooke. Teri and I woke up early, only because the kids had to wait for our presence before they were allowed to open their presents! Christmas Day was a mixture of the familiar and not so familiar...familiar in watching kids rip open their gifts by the Xmas tree, tons of food and eating until you can't move, playing with the kids...; unfamiliar in working up a sweat playing cricket in thebackyard, no cheesy Xmas music in the background, shorts and T-shirts rather than ski pants and scarves.......and of course the absence of our immediate families. But we are really lucky to be with old friends who have made us feel like family over the past few days...thanks to them for that! The Stead kids got a Wii for Xmas so I was in my glory playing video games with Jack for the better part of Xmas day, even though Jack kicked my butt at most of the games.
Here it's now boxing day and we are heading to a cottage with the Steads for a couple days to do some fishing, eating, and relaxing.
We hope you all have a great Christmas Day and rest of the holiday season!!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Whitsunday Islands

Teri - After Fraser Island, we took a long bus ride up the east coast to Airlie Beach. We spent one day and night in Airlie and then boarded the Kiana, , a 16.4 metre yacht for fourteen passengers plus three crew, for three days and two nights. What a fantastic experience! Chris had cruised the Whitsundays on his first trip up the coast fourteen years ago and really wanted to share the experience with me. I was hesitant at first because of the cost, but it was well worth it! The Whitsunday Islands are gorgeous! We visited the most beautiful place I've ever been - Whitehaven Beach - snorkelled, and I scuba-dived the Great Barrier Reef! (Unfortunately Chris couldn't scuba dive due to a chest cold.) The crew took excellent care of us including feeding us delicious meals. Sailing was exhilarating thanks to a couple Gravol taken ahead of time. I highly recommend the Kiana to anyone who wants to experience the Whitsunday Islands and the outer Great Barrier Reef.
About scuba diving... I went three times, the second time I was really scared and had to practice the deep yogic breathing to keep myself from panicking, but the third time was much better. I could appreciate how tranquil and almost meditative diving could be once one gets used to the bizarre feeling of breathing underwater. There's so much to see when you relax and are able to look around. I can't wait to go again!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Eve Reflections

Teri - Well it is Christmas Eve morning in Port Adelaide. Chris is still asleep and I have the house to myself as Rod & Anna, whose home we're staying at, have gone to work. A good time for a few reflections on our overall travel experience...

Before embarking on this trip, I yearned for adventures on the far corners of the globe. I was restless, and even though I always knew my life was extraordinarily blessed, I wasn't completely content because I felt like travelling was something I needed to experience. I felt my life was too comfy, and I wanted to take risks and challenge myself. The destinations themselves were less important than the act of venturing forth in the world and experiencing life and myself out of my usual context.

I romanticized travel in my mind and was disappointed when we couldn't go for nine months as we'd originally hoped. I'd read and reread Rolph Pott's Vagabonding - The Art of Long-Term World Travel and my mind was filled with quotes like, "Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore." (Andre Gide)

So we did it, and what have I learned?

I'm proud of us for taking a leap of faith and venturing out when it wasn't a popular or conventional choice for two people in their thirties. I may have sacrificed the security of a good job and created some odd gaps on my resume, but I'm sure it will all work out. I'm glad we didn't play it safe and do what was expected of us.

I'm glad we did it now rather than later. When my dad passed away suddenly in 08, the urgency to travel intensified in me. I had never really considered time as finite before - there was always tomorrow or next year. I wish my dad had more time to do the things he wanted to in life, and I hope he would be proud of me for following my dreams instead of putting them off to some distant future when they were more 'practical'.

My perception of travel is less idealistic since hitting the road ten weeks ago. The daily grind of regular life is replaced by the grind of wearing the same dirty clothes, packing and unpacking, sleeping in unfamiliar beds and missing the comforts of home. I'm a little disappointed in myself, actually, to learn how attached I am to superficial luxuries like having several pairs of shoes and makeup and hot baths. (I don't have these things but I miss them intensely!) I thought travel would weaken my vanity and superficial attachments but I think it has just brought them to the surface!
While in India especially, I came to appreciate how spoiled we are in the West, how much we consider to be minimum standards of life are totally outside the range of experience for millions of people who still manage to get by, and do so with apparent grace and contentment. When I'm feeling sucky about being on a bus for 14 hours in Australia, I think about how a bus in India would have at least three times more passengers, little suspension but rougher roads, and no air conditioning. Even though my pampered Western-world conditioning has been put under the microscope on this trip, I think I've also become a bit tougher, and have learned that I can get by with much less than I thought.

I've learned that the people you meet while travelling are the most meaningful part of the journey. The Taj Mahal was wonderful to visit, but in the end it will be the friends we visited, the friends we made enroute, and the local people we talked to who give the experience its poignancy and flavour. As an introverted person, I'm still practicing striking up conversations with strangers, but I find that when I do I often have the most interesting exchanges and learn things about places that you don't find in Lonely Planet. Just as an example, I met a woman on the flight to Goa who lived there who told me about a night-market worth checking out and gave me her card 'in case we ran into any trouble, just give her a call'. The generosity of friends and strangers warms my heart.

Just two more insights...

"The map is not the territory." (Alfred Korzybski) A familiar and routinized life insulates us somewhat from our individual quirks and weaknesses. Travelling and meeting new people in new contexts creates in me a self-consciousness that is unsettling. While I guess it has also been an opportunity to discover hidden strengths like courage and independence, it also brings to light unattractive aspects of my personality and unhealthy patterns in Chris's and my relationship. I think it's all good though, and I trust that we're both growing personally and relationally. This trip is bringing us closer, I believe, as we overcome obstacles together and create many shared memories.

Finally, "We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." (T. S. Elliot) The last while I've felt homesick and have even toyed with the idea of cutting the trip short by coming home from Australia instead of going to New Zealand. I think we all take for granted, to some degree, our relationships, communities, and homes. I know I will come home with a greater appreciation for my family, my friends, my home, and my whole life. I still want to see Europe, more of North America, and pretty much anywhere else I have the opportunity, but I don't think I'll go away for longer than a month again. This trip is giving me an appreciation of balance between the exhilaration of setting out and having adventures in new places with the grounding and comforting experience of home, that is itself interesting and enlightening if only we continue to see with fresh eyes.

If you're still reading, congratulations, you've come to the end. If you think about the meaning of life and purpose, let's get together for a coffee and chat sometime. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a safe, healthy and inspiring 2010.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fraser Island

Teri - Fraser Island is a beautiful sand island off the coast of Hervey Bay, Queensland. It is protected as a Unesco Heritage site. We went on a two day, one night Fraser Island Explorer tour last week. 4x4-ing along the 75-mile Ocean Highway which is a sand beach, not a road as we think of it, was a highlight of the trip. (We were on a 4x4 bus, not driving ourselves, fortunately.)
We hiked through forests, hung out on a couple beautiful beaches, saw some dingoes...Not much else to say, we'll let the pictures speak for themselves...

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Sorry for the long delay between blogs. We have found ourselves in transit and/or away from computers quite a bit lately.
From Byron we bussed up to Brisbane, where we spent just over a day with Jill Dakin, who we were connected with through our friends Jack and Linda McKinnon from Carman.
We are very glad we took the time to make the Brisbane stop, as Jill was a fantastic host and excellent tour guide! We took in the view of Brisbane from Mt. Coot'tha summit, visited the SouthBank area along the Brisbane River which boasts a huge FREE swimming area and pedestrian paths along the river...a very nice spot on a hot day (and it was hot while we were in Brisbane...mid 30's both days!) We also took a drive out to Manly and Nelson Bay, both are nice areas on the east side of the city.

The highlight of the stop in Brisbane was certainly Jill's home cooking and cozy accomodation in her "wildlife sanctuary" home with its amazing gardens. Bijou the friendly dog also helped us feel right at home. Thanks again for everything Jill!

Next Stop...Byron Bay

Byron Bay was our next stop after Newcastle, known for having the most easterly point on Australia's mainland. The big thing is to get up early and see the sun rise from this point - but that would involve getting up at 4:00 in the morning to hike to the point to catch the sun coming up at 4:45 - and most of you know that is not bloody likely to happen in Chris and Teri's world!! Not that day, anyway. However, we did take the beautiful walk out to the lighthouse and the most easterly point and spent some relaxing time on Wategos Beach.
Byron Bay is also known for its sea kayaking with the dolphins and surf lessons. We twice attempted to do the sea kayaking but unfortunately the winds were too high 2 days in a row and the tours were cancelled. And Teri decided that surf lessons were not her thing! So our highlights in Byron Bay were the afternoon hike to the lighthouse and the ham and swiss croissants we ate for both lunch and supper the one day! Bye Bye Byron Bay....

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Visit in Newcastle

(Chris) Our second stop in Australia was Newcastle to visit a good mate of mine that I played baseball with when I was here in 95/96 - Sean "Doofus" Doudle. We caught the Greyhound for the 2.5 hour bus from Sydney to Newcastle on Saturday night, and Sean and his wife Megan kindly picked us up from the bus station. We were able to see a huge amount of the city and suburbs thanks to "Sean & Megan's Guided Tours"...Thanks so much to them for taking the time to show us their great hometown! They also treated us to a couple home-cooked meals on the barbie which included kangaroo steak and some burgers marinated in Guinness stout. Ahhhhhhh...!
It was also incredibly interesting to hear about Sean's experience on the TV show "The Biggest Loser" (Australia edition). He and his baseball mate Ben were lucky enough to be chosen to compete in the past season of the show which aired in Australia this past February. If you are interested you can check out the show and his profile at His story and success are truly inspiring! He ended being the "biggest loser" (lost the most weight) of all the elimated contestants on the show, and he looks great. There's a picture of me with Sean and Ben when we went by Ben's house to meet him on Sunday. There's also a picture of us with most of Sean & Megan's family - Brooke (14), Damon (12) & Tiarnie (16) (missing is David (18). Another picture shows a cool army bunker along the Pacific Ocean from WWII, and another picture shows the beautiful St. Michael's cathedral in Newcastle. And finally, Teri had the honour of riding Damon's bike up the steep street a couple times and survived despite the bike lacking any functional brakes...thanks Damon!

We jumped back on the bus for an overnight trip and we are now in laid-back Byron Bay for a couple nights to do some sea kayaking and try out some surfing. Next we're off to Brisbane to check out the sites there and hopefully catch up with a couple acquaintances.


Teri - Chris and I arrived in Sydney Wednesday evening and checked into Sydney Central YHA Hostel. That evening we just wandered down George St. and stopped in a pub for burgers and beer.
Thursday morning was spent doing laundry (Yah! First time in 6 weeks!) and trying to connect with people we want to visit in Australia. In the afternoon we ventured out on foot to Darling Harbour and Sydney Harbour. The Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge were awesome to behold! It was a fun day just taking in the sights and atmosphere of a very vibrant and beautiful city.
Friday we planned to take the train to the Blue Mountains but we changed our mind at 6:00 a.m. when we should have been getting up and decided to sleep longer instead. Probably for the best because we needed the time to plan out an itinerary for our next few weeks and book tickets. We did manage to head out to Market City and Paddy's Market in Chinatown, and the Rocks at Sydney Harbour for shopping. I picked up a bathing suit and Chris got new shorts and sunglasses. The grungy bohemian clothes we wore in India feel very out of place in this exceptionally well-dressed city!
We also had a short but good visit with Aly Jamieson from home - she worked at the Assessment Office with Chris for several months and is traveling in Australia for awhile herself.
India definitely has a special place in my heart, and I'm so glad we went, but I must say it is wonderful to be in such clean, and even though it's my first time here, familiar surroundings!