Only Planet

One Child, One Year, One Planet. A family of three traveling around the world...

You can contact us at werkingwells (at) gmail . com

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas Greetings from Down Under!

We wish you a wonderful holiday season with peace and prosperity for the New Year.

Andy, Loey & Dylan
Sydney Australia, December 22, 2005

Portland Australia: It’s a long way to Portland

Much of this trip has come together like a piece of origami. We may think we are folding a crane, but after the changes, false starts and many stops, we end up holding an origami penguin. This helps to explain how we ended up in Portland Australia, so very far from our home that is Portland Oregon, but let’s go back to the beginning, and how we ended up here.

We were sitting across from two older gentlemen at a Starbucks on Khao San Road in Bangkok, avoiding the crowds and heat, when one of the men woke up from his nap and started up a friendly conversation. Turns out he was an Australian and his friend an American. They were long time residents of Bangkok, but the Aussie had tons of advice for traveling through his country. One of the things he said we had to do was take a drive on the Great Ocean Road. Originally our plans to visit Australia were centered around two weeks in Sydney in April, but we were open to suggestions, and filed this piece of information away. But now we’re in the country for a month, and could take him up on his advice.

After nine nights in Brisbane we flew to Melbourne and spent the next ten days exploring the state of Victoria. Melbourne is like Portland Oregon: a dynamic city with a number of neighborhoods sporting cool restaurants, funky shops and a laid-back urban feeling. While in Melbourne we were able to be a bit more social and visit some Australians. Our friends Rhonda and Gulu hooked us up with their close friends Norman and Charmaine. (Rhonda and I go waaaay back as friends, to our first week in college where we met when she found me in her closet after a particularly hard night of partying, wearing a ratty yellow bathrobe and meowing like the family cat, but that’s another story.) Norman and Charmaine invited us to their home and we got to eat delectable Greek pastries and play with baby Sebastian who was all smiles for us, while chatting with them about our mutual friends, the differences between Australia and America, and life in general.

Not since staying in Korea had we felt that a Servas visit was in order. We stayed a couple of nights in the Melbourne suburb of Alphington with Peter, Lynn, Rebecca and Megan, who took us for a walk in their neighborhood, brought us as special guests to the end-of-the-school-year picnic (the Aussies get to bring beer and wine to their kids’ school events!!), and Dylan got to play with kids for the first time since we met Norel in Bangkok. They had taken their kids on a round-the-world trip for four months last year, so there was much that we had in common!

While at the picnic I was telling a couple of folks about our plans to drive the Great Ocean Road to Portland (it seemed like a cool place on the map) and then drive back through Melbourne and on to Sydney. Well, the people I was talking with were too polite to tell me that I was absolutely insane, but pointed out that Portland to Sydney, which looked like about 2 inches on the map, was in fact an 18-hour drive. Crikey, I thought to meself. There was no way Dylan was going to sit in a car that long, and even Andy didn’t want to make that drive. So we quickly got on the internet and scored some cheap Melbourne to Sydney airline tickets. Yet another way our plans continue to unfold in a myriad of ways.

We hightailed it on an inner road to the hamlet of Narrawong, outside of Portland, where we met our next Servas hosts Di and Graeme, a very busy “retired” couple who are also lavender farmers. They extract the oil from the plants for organic lavender products like soaps and lotions. It was wonderful walking through the fields of lavender, over the hills and onto the beach. Over cups of tea, we got to spend plenty of time with this fun couple, who have lots of their own fun travel stories to tell, having hosted and visited scores of Servas members over the years. Dylan’s highlights with Graeme and Di were seeing a wild koala hanging out in neighbor’s yard and decorating their Christmas tree, which was held steady in a bucket of sand!.

Oh, yeah, we were also in Portland. Portland Australia is a tiny town of 9600 people. It is the oldest settlement in Victoria and has a long history of really being a port town. There’s not much else to say about Portland, except it seems like a nice enough town, but it just made us miss our “own” Portland more.

The Great Ocean Road was a fabulously scenic drive on the way back to Melbourne, with great cliffs, turquoise waters, winding roads, and eucalyptus forests. One of the more beautiful places on the earth, and we wouldn’t have ventured there but for our chance encounter in Bangkok.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Melbourne Australia: Hanging out with the D-minus crowd

No, we’re not talking about the Australians. With the exception of the bloody idiots engaging in racial bashing in Sydney, many of the Australians we’ve met have been lovely, friendly and ever so helpful people. The D-minus crowd in this case are the koalas. Behind that cute black nose, those tufted ears and the vacant stare off into never-never land, these animals are not exactly the brainiacs of the animal kingdom. Seems koalas spend 20 hours a day sleeping off the effects of eating gum leaves, which are so toxic that they have to use 1/5 of their energy just detoxifying their meals.

Here’s what the Lonely Planet says about koalas: “Several years ago biologists announced that the koalas are the only living creatures that have brains that don’t fit their skulls. Instead they have a shriveled walnut of a brain that rattles around in a fluid filled cranium. Other researchers have contested this finding, however, pointing out that the brains of the koalas examined for the study may have shrunk because these organs are so soft. Whether soft-brained or empty-headed, there is no doubt that the koala is not the Einstein of the animal world.”

Stupid or not, we’ve loved hugging the koalas, and only hope that to them we are just one more tree to hang out on. Watching kangaroos hopping about and gently eating food from our hands,

and gaping in amazement at the wombats, who look like hamsters on steroids, have thus far been the highlights of our Australian visit. While in Brisbane we went to the Australian Zoo, home of Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter. While we didn’t see Steve breathlessly swinging a venomous snake by its tail, we got to watch crocodiles lunge for their lunch and camels who seem to have adapted quite well to the Australian climate.

It’s hard to believe we’ve been in Australia for over two weeks. I managed to stay sick throughout Sydney and Brisbane, but with a nice cocktail of antibiotics, prednisone and valium, the days kind of float by in a haze and I’m feeling well on the road to recovery. We have another week in the Melbourne area, where we plan to drive the Great Coast Highway and visit some Servas families.

The weather here is perfect, sunny, but not too hot. Then off to Sydney for Christmas--and the sightseeing we missed out on while I was sick in bed--before hopping on over to New Zealand for a kiwi New Year.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Sydney Australia: The Bloody Idiots Club

We haven't seen much of Sydney. Not the zoo, the harbor (actually Andy got to go there), or any of the great sights because the day after arriving, Dylan and I got pretty sick. While my body was wracked with fever and aches, Dylan spent an uncomfortable night praying to the porcelain god. But all is not lost. We headed out to Brisbane today on a 14 hour train ride and will spend about 10 days there and on the Gold Coast before flying to Melbourne and driving a rental car back to Sydney, just in time for Christmas (or Chrissy as the Aussies call it) and hopefully some sightseeing.

So, the other night we were watching the national Australian news, which interestingly enough has the same theme music as NBC Nightly News, when the announcer started going on about the Bloody Idiots Club. Apparently, the Australians don't mince words, because this was a club filled by people dumb enough to drink alcohol and drive, hence the name, bloody idiots. She not only talked about recent statistics, but named the recently busted as well as a photo montage of the more famous Australians initiated into the club. There were quite a few that should have known better. Well, Andy and I were totally cracking up, because we couldn't imagine Tom Brokaw going on about the latest drunk drivers while featuring some of the more famous on national news, let alone call them bloody idiots. It reminded us how very far from home we are.

That's the really interesting thing about travel, is that you can immerse yourself in the local news and get a real feel for the people and culture. While in China, we read the English-written Chinese papers and it was an education to see their perspective on the world. In almost every newspaper there would be small bits of news from the provinces: a mother who killed herself because she couldn't pay for her child's school tuition, some guy with an unusual foot disease, the price of tea. Tidbits never heard outside of the country. In Thailand we were privy not only to some inane TV shows (they have a real fondness for crossdressing men), but reports on every person who contracted bird flu and the increasingly unstable southern part of the country where Muslim extremists were clashing with local officials over the creation of a separate state. I'm not sure if the story of Burma moving its nations capitol from Rangoon to the jungle in the middle of the night was reported in the US, but it got a lot of press in Thailand. It was the equivalent of George Bush saying one day, "Hey I think Washington DC is a bit too much on the beaten path, lets move the capitol to some swamp in South Carolina!"

It's a refreshing reminder that we, and in conjunction the United States, are not the Center of the Universe. While our country has managed to export McDonald's, KFC and that horrible Whitney Huston song from the movie The Bodyguard (oh I I I I will alwayssss love you) to all reaches of the galaxy, Tom Delay, recent storms, and even George Bush can be pushed out of the limelight. Although Bush's visit to China did garner a few headlines in the Thai papers.