I just came back from an experience that reminded me very much of a similar one in Ireland. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Got to bed sometime after 1, last night, and decided to let nature takes its course. If I slept in, great—if not, well, one step at a time.
Snapped out of a decent sleep at 4:30 am. That was my Sign: thou shalt leave immediately. The idea was to counter a phenomenon I’d seen in Ireland: massive traffic jams coming into the city just as I am trying to escape. As in Ireland, I didn’t make it.
I started out ok, but then took a wrong turn. After trying for another mile or so, I pulled into a gas station and asked the always friendly Australian for some help. "Ah, mate, you’re a ways away now!" He gave me a set of completely incomprehensible instructions, but learning that I’d crossed the street I was supposed to be on, I managed to retrace my steps, and got going in the right direction.
I was on my way to The Blue Mountains, Linda’s idea of a little diversion before heading up the coast to the location from which I write this: Coff’s Habour. She notes in her itinerary for me that she’s not sure this isn’t a bit much in the driving department. More than one ad hoc Aussie travel advisor over the course of the day would second that doubt. My own concern became getting to Coff’s before dark. In the end, I put several hundred miles on my rented Toyota, and I did it all driving on the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road. Somehow, the direction works out the same, though.
The Blue Mountains are not blue, nor are they mountains. Actually, my own impression was that they are a suburb of Sydney now. I set a particular town as my goal: Katoomba, from which I was to turn around and get onto the northbound highway closer to the Sydney area. I had just passed mile after mile after mile of bumper-to-bumper traffic coming into the city from these suburbs, and didn’t want to chance getting into that, myself. So I altered the plan, and continue northward from Katoomba, then went back east along a parallel road to the one I’d taken west. I got lost a couple times on that eastward leg, but eventually ended up at the right place going north. At least a couple hours earlier than Linda’s suggestion, but it would prove either just right or bit later than ideal.
First, Katoomba reminded me mightily of the oil country that young Tom Clark and I explored in Pennsylvania a few months ago. I could have been walking the sidewalks of Butler PA, for all the difference there was. As far as the trip north went, I took few pictures, because the scenery was very similar to what you’d see in many areas of the US. In fact, the eucalyptus that is so prevalant here was introduced into California at the beginning of the 20th century, as I recall, and grows there like a weed (but a pretty weed). I did drive into a named picnic area just to get a shot across a forested valley.
[next morning, 4 am]
Hmmm. This is getting to be a habit. Fell asleep writing the above (hope you’re having better luck), and managed to brush a tooth or two before falling more officially into same. And, of course, snapped wide awake at 3 am.
I hear the sound of the ocean, but won’t believe that until I have a chance to investigate with the dawn.
Where were we? Oh, yes—taking a picture. It’s spring here, and as I exited the less developed area of the photographs and re-entered a populated area, I came into orchard country. One roadside location advertised home-made apple pies, so I pulled in and snagged one for the family (as well as a lonesome piece for myself—quite good; not at all sweet, and very fruity). Had a chat with a couple Aussie women who either run the place or were visiting. I asked whether they’d ever seen Yanks in their area (which has something of a touristy reputation), and they said, yes, but usually in “safari” (tour) busses. Never a guy all on his own driving around Australia. Not much of Australia, granted, but it’s a very big country.
The highway (Pacific Highway) is in the process of being replaced by Highway 1 (often known as the M3). In those new sections (some years from completion), the road is a match for any in the world. Four lanes, divided by the usual landscaping that mostly Nature does. In the older sections. it can probably be described as somewhat dangerous. Three lanes, no division, with the extra lane going alternately to either direction. Similar to the Highway 17 of my California youth, a road known in my day as Blood Alley. There is more and more traffic on Highway 1, so the conversion is welcome, and it will undoubtedly save several lives.
As I note above, the countryside is very similar to many parts of the US, and I was not moved to get out and photograph it very often.
Arrived at Coff’s Harbour a wee bit past my desired time. That is, the sun had mostly set, but I eventually found the hotel (really, a collection of beach houses) Linda had arranged. Utterly exhausted, I dragged my stuff into a “cabin.” It’s an A-frame sort of thing with a big bedroom and all sorts of room for family types to hang out for a summer week. Odd for this guy all by himself, but I was too tired to think much about it. Hadn’t had lunch, so decided on dinner (it was 6:30), and saw that around the corner from my bungalow is a “cafe.” Well, proved to be a bit more than that.
When I went to Ireland a few years ago, I discovered that the hosting business there feels it has to conform to some sort of European standard in cuisine. Often, I found this quite a contrast with my surroundings (see the Ireland journal). Seems to be the same here. I chose a local fish (barramundi, if I recall the name correctly), and had it with Australian wine and vegetables. Excellent. Knowing on what grounds I now sat, I asked the waitress to bring a dessert that fit that excellent meal. She did, and it was. I concluded this wonderful experience with a cup of “long black,” and that’s probably why I’m writing this so early in the morning. I think “long black” is what we call an “Americano,” that is, where the shot(s) of espresso is mitigated by extra water. A “long pull” is to get that extra water from the espresso machine, but in the States, it’s usually just added after the espresso shot is created.
A couple years ago, my friend Dora and I had dinner at Morton’s steakhouse. It was a grand meal, and I decided to finish it off with my usual four shots of espresso. Had no trouble falling asleep (I have more than once wondered whether I was going to get my coffee cup to the table as I prepared for an after-lunch nap), but snapped awake 4-5 hours later. I was complaining about not having been able to sleep long enough, at work the next day, and Roni said that his mother has the problem if she drinks coffee at night. Whoops.
Dawn is no more than an hour away, so I’ll attempt to send this, then shower. I meet the family up at Surfer’s Paradise, this afternoon, but should be able to spend a few more hours here…
It was the ocean. I had slept the whole night about a hundred yards from the Pacific Ocean, and because I’d opened the patio door of my bedroom (oh, you don’t have one?) and other screened windows (for air movement), I’d been listening to the sea in the background all night. It was when I walked on that lovely beach that a lot of feeling came back to me. I’m a California native, and the ocean and I go back a long way. I photographed the sunrise, and built up a nice appetite for breakfast. Breakfast at the beach—it doesn’t get much better.
Then I threw all my stuff into the Toyota, and assumed my customary left-lane position on the road north. Let me tell you—as one California native to, perhaps, another—seeing those beaches come up as I crossed a hill up toward Byron Bay brought back any feelings walking on the beach hadn’t just renewed. God, it’s gorgeous around here.
We’re in holiday mode generally, although not everyone is yet participating. So sleepy little Byron Bay (eastern=most point of the continent of Australia) was a hopping place, soon to hop even higher. Much of the feeling of Santa Cruz, California, and very much a better place to walk than to drive. My schedule didn’t call for that kind of time, nor did I even know what was here, but I got the feeling I could spend a day or two just walking around. Was turned back from the lighthouse (a popular touring destination), as there was no room left (now, I know how Mary felt). But it was nearly time to get on to Surfer’s Paradise, further north, anyway.
I should mention the sugar cane and bananas. Endless fields of sugar cane for miles along the coast, and evidence of bananas all along the way. Didn’t see any roadside stands at which to buy sugar cane, but did see many place to buy bananas. So, tropical in nature, but the weather was very cool. Much the influence of the sea, I’m sure.
Made it to Surfer’s Paradise, an Atlantic City sort of place. The primary “commercial” goal for Australians on holiday, it’s so big and complex, it took me an hour to find the hotel we’d arranged. But did so, and there were Kathryn, Linda, Christopher, Timothy, and Stephen. Dropped off the rental car, and we settled into our hotel. Did some family touring of the beach, had dinner, and then retired for the night. I don’t think I even read from my book, but have awakened after a very nice sleep, and am ready to join the safari to O’Reilly’s, a luxury resort area further north. A new adventure begins.