Escaping Winter: Part 2

Spring seems to be arriving early at the farm. Today I was walking around in a t-shirt while the low winter sun warmed my face. The pregnant sheep and goats are close to having their babies, and we’re scrambling to get ready for the season ahead. I have more of our winter get-away to write about, but if you’re dying for some farm-related news check this out: http://us9.campaign-archive1.com/?u=76509a2c1f99173c27cbcc178&id=d67b98781a

I also promise to post baby animal photos as soon as they arrive, so be sure to check out our facebook page as well: www.facebook.com/brightideacres

And now…back to the Southwest!

After leaving Salt Lake City, Andrew and I spent an uneventful night in Moab, Utah, one of our favorite spots from our 2012 road trip. Unfortunately in the winter Moab is like a ghost town, and most of the restaurants and shops are closed for the season. In light of this, we left early the next morning and headed down into Arizona. We debated about whether or not to hit the Four Corners region, but decided instead to drive through Monument Valley, which is in the Navajo Nation Reservation. We were fortunate enough to drive through this amazing landscape after a recent dusting of snow. The roads were clear and safe, but the red rocks that jut out of the ground like alien formations on Mars were sprinkled with white powder. The contrast of colors made for an unforgettable experience, especially when the semi-wild horses wandered past. We listened to the local Navajo radio station as we drove through, and felt our souls vibrate in tune with the native chanters as we marveled at the magnificent terrain.

That night we stayed in the Canyon de Chelle at a Navajo run campground. It was a frigid night and the campground water tank was frozen solid, so we melted snow to make some pasta and curled up in our tent early. I was thankful for the extra heft and warmth our new Pendleton blanket provided! The next morning we drove into the Canyon to take a look at some of the sights. This is a holy place to the Navajo people, and I was excited to notice some tokens of offering that had been left at the base of Spider Rock. I am thankful to Andrew for always packing every possible item we may need on our trips; were it not for the binoculars I would have missed this small, reverent detail. Our next destination was the Petrified Forest National Park, a place I had visited as a child. Unfortunately after the beauty of Monument Valley, the Painted Desert fell a little short. Many of the petrified logs once held glimmering crystals, but rude tourists and other scallywags have dislodged and stolen the crystals over the years, which also added to our sense of disappointment.

Happily for us our next stop was Tucson, where plenty of joy and amusement awaited. We were stoked to meet up with my sister Meghan, her husband Jonathan, and their baby Juniper, and spend some quality time with my grandmother as well. Tucson activities included swimming in a lovely heated pool (Jonathan’s all-time favorite pastime, and Juniper’s first swim!), visiting Biosphere 2 out in the desert, hiking in Sabino Canyon, enjoying delicious food and drink (including the various meats and eggs we hauled down with us!), and taking a family portrait at JC Penney for Grandma. One of the days we went to lunch in downtown Tucson at one of our favorite places, The Blue Willow. We invited our old nanny Kaye, who took care of Meghan and me from infancy through childhood while our parents worked during the day. Kaye was 90, and her health had rapidly declined in the year since I’d seen her last. I’m so grateful we were able to spend that lovely afternoon with her, as it would turn out to be our last. Kaye passed away last week at home with her family. If only I can be so lucky as Kaye, to live a long, happy, joy-filled life and pass away in my home surrounded by love. She was like a grandmother to me, and I will never forget the warmth and tender care I received from this wonderful woman.

We spent close to a week in Tucson, and were itching for some rock climbing so Andrew and I headed north to Queens Creek Canyon up near Phoenix. The desert landscape here was gorgeous, and Andrew and I hiked through a canyon, past a little pond where we waited out a rain shower under the shelter of a small mesquite tree, and came out on top of a cliff. We strapped on our gear and rappelled down a route known as Geronimo. This exposed cliff was nerve-wracking for me since I haven’t done much outdoor climbing in the past few years, but I was proud of myself. Once we rappelled down we had to climb back up (of course!), and I managed to do it without help from Andrew since he was ahead of me and couldn’t do much but holler encouragement from above. As we hiked back down to our truck we were treated with a gorgeous rainbow, and we deeply inhaled that damp, musky, invigorating scent that only rainfall in a desert can produce. That night we made friends with our camp neighbors and enjoyed some beer and company around a roaring fire.

While we would have loved another day or two in Queens Creek, we had Joshua Tree on our minds. We hightailed it through Arizona (thanking our luck that gas prices had dropped to $1.84/gallon outside Phoenix!), and zoomed into Joshua Tree in the evening. Joshua Tree is a very special place for us: we met there, were married there, and I even have a Joshua tree tattooed on my ribcage, so we were excited to spend some time in one of our favorite spots. We wound up sharing a campsite with a young couple from Montana. Sam and Ian were kindred spirits, and we had a good time sharing meals, laughs, and campfires with them. We even took them to the Chasm of Doom one night, which is a fun cave scramble you do in the dark (assuming you have a knowledgeable guide like Andrew!). Unfortunately for me my fickle stomach wasn’t on board with this adventure, so I spent most of that time lying on a picnic table in the dark alternately listening to their hoots and hollers as they wormed their way through the cave and keeping an eye out for nosy coyotes.

After a couple days of rock climbing, lounging, and general merriment, we told Joshua Tree “goodbye for now”, and headed into Desert Hot Springs for a few hours’ soak in a natural hot springs pool. The resort we went to obviously had its heyday in the 1980s, and we enjoyed the cheesy music, cheap prices, and delicious mai tais as the desert dust rinsed away. That night we spent at Andrew’s grandparents’ house in San Clemente. Andrew’s grandmother always prepares for his visit by baking a fresh batch of his favorite chocolate chip cookies, and we always have a warm comfy bed on standby. We had a nice breakfast the next morning and polished off the last of our traveling bacon, and then headed through the LA madness towards his other grandparents’ home. We stopped at my favorite LA spot: Scoops Ice Cream for a delicious treat, (their flavors are incredible and they have the BEST soy ice cream options I’ve ever seen!), and the stress from LA traffic vanished at that first bite. Once we made it to Andrew’s grandparents’ house we sat and chatted with them for a while about life, death, grief, and other important topics before hitting the road yet again.

Our next couple days were full of driving, though we were lucky enough to have the time and good weather to drive up the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. We stopped for a night in Mammoth and saw my pal Jill, and stopped for a couple hours in Reno to catch up with some of Andrew’s old friends from college. Finally we made it to Eugene, Oregon where we spent the night with my brother and sister-in-law (and their menagerie of dogs), and before we knew it we were back on the farm, frantically planning for the season ahead. One month later and we’re still at it, working on spreadsheets, business plans, and figuring out how we can afford to buy the animal feed we’ll need to keep 1,200 broiler chickens, 120 laying hens, 40 pigs, and 100 turkeys alive and healthy. Thankfully the goats and sheep eat grass, but there’s a lot of work involved with those guys too, so it’s bound to be a busy season for us again. After this nice relaxing winter I think we’re ready for the challenge!

The Best Vacation Ever Part 3: Eastern Australia (Part 3!)

We’ve been back on the farm for almost two months now, so it’s probably time for my final post about our Australian vacation extravaganza so I can start filling you in about what’s been going on around here (goat babies, for one!).

After our misadventure in the rainforest, we headed back down to the quiet town of Yepoon to stay in the same caravan park from our trip up the coast. Our gregarious host Murray was kind enough to show us a giant carpet python he had captured when a neighbor called and asked for his help. Apparently he is known as the guy you call when giant snakes are in your yard and he will come pick them up and relocate them away from residences. Pretty great! We had our own little Steve Irwin moment there in Yepoon, and I got to watch the flying foxes, rainbow lorikeets, and red-tailed black cockatoos again too!

The next morning we spent some time in the tiny town at a shop that was 1/3 coffee shop, 1/3 clothing shop, and 1/3 nautical themed home décor. Obviously I loved it. We idled for a long while, sitting at a long bar with giant windows overlooking the ocean. We sipped our lattes and read trashy Aussie magazines, and I was discouraged to find that the majority of the characters in said magazines were of the Kardashian variety…I guess horrible American pop culture is inescapable.

Our next stop on this journey was Bundaberg (Bundy), which is known for it’s sugarcane crop and namesake rum. The logo on a bottle of Bundaberg rum is a polar bear, which makes little sense considering the location is downright tropical. Apparently the rum is potent juice, and many bars in Eastern Australia have banned it because it encourages “rowdy” behavior. I was under the impression that this is just a side effect of alcohol in general, but I guess I’ll have to take their word for it. After all, we didn’t go to Bundy for the booze…we went for the sea turtles!

Mon Repos turtle rookery is a natural nesting site on the coast near Bundaberg, and for once the season was in our favor. Sea turtles only lay eggs between November and February, and the eggs hatch about 6 weeks later. We bought tickets to the sanctuary and had to wait with tons of other people for the sun to set before we could head out onto the beach in small groups. We were in the last group, and we had heard that groups before us had all seen baby turtles emerge and scurry towards the ocean. Baby turtles use the moonlight reflecting off the ocean to guide them, and light pollution from cities is a real concern. Flashlights were prohibited on the beach for this reason, and we stumbled behind our quick-footed guides as we hustled down the beach to an amazing sight. A mother loggerhead sea turtle was on the beach, laying her eggs in a hole she had dug with her flippers. A research team was there taking measurements and notes, and after her eggs were laid we got to help move them to a safer spot up the beach where the incoming tide wouldn’t drown them. It was a slow, laborious journey for the turtle to lumber back out to sea, but when she made the final push and vanished beneath the waves I cried tears of joy.

We had spent over an hour watching this turtle, and were told that was the end of the action for the night. As we headed back up the beach towards our cars, someone spotted a baby turtle running willy-nilly down towards the water. A researcher was alerted and we soon learned that a nest of flat-back turtles had hatched and was pushing out of the ground trying desperately to get to the ocean. This turtle species is more rare at Mon Repos, so the researchers had placed a basket on top of the nest to try and catch the babies so they could take measurements before releasing them into the sea. The instinct in these little guys was so intense they were pushing the basket out of the way and escaping one by one. The researchers finally rounded them up and we were able to touch a little turtle before they took them into the lab. Fact: baby turtles are adorable! And amazing! They dig themselves out of the ground, but they don’t start digging until every egg has hatched. They also wait for nightfall, which they can sense by the temperature of the sand. These little tricks are meant to better ensure their survival…the rate of sea turtle survival to maturity is a paltry 1 in 1,000.

After what was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, we had a miserable night. We had failed to secure a campsite before going to the rookery, and nothing was available at the late hour we returned. I even deigned to walk the halls of a disgusting youth hostel but could not find anyone who even worked there, so after much driving around (and almost hitting a kamikaze wallaby!), we lucked into a caravan park that had a rare and welcoming sign: “late arrivals check in in the morning.” The next morning I went to check in and mentioned we arrived after midnight, and they said in that case our night was free! We found a nice place to make breakfast on the beach and read, relaxed and felt happy after our stressful (and argument-inducing) night!

Before I get to the end, there are some things about traveling in Australia that I think would be nice to pass on to you, in case you decide to go (you should!!!). Of course there are a million little differences between the U.S. and Australia, but these are some of the ones that really popped out to me while we were traveling around, mostly because they are things we apparently take for granted.

Wifi is very hard to find. If you’re going to be staying in big cities, you’ll be fine. But wifi is not in every coffee shop like here in the US. We found we had to spend way more time in various McDonald’s (Maccas) than we’re comfortable with. I would definitely recommend paying for international cell phone service rather than trying to rely on free wifi like us. Having cellular data available would have saved us a lot of stress on those nights where we couldn’t find lodging, and would have made it easier to contact potential lodgings (and saved us a needless trip into the flooded rainforest!).

Most restaurants close early by American standards. Again, probably not an issue in big cities. But in the beach towns along the coast, we struggled many times to find a meal after 8PM. This rule applies to caravan parks too…don’t expect to find a campsite after a long day of traveling. I assume you might be able to call ahead and make a reservation so they know you are coming, but without a phone we were stymied more than once by locked gates and “closed at 5PM” signs.

Coffee culture is different. If you like lattes and mochas, or any espresso drinks, you’re set; they have really great espresso. If you like drip coffee (as we do), forget it. It cannot be found in a coffee shop. At the grocery store you can find some beans, but most Australians drink instant coffee at home. Also if you order iced lattes or mochas, they’ll put ice cream in it unless you specify otherwise!

Bacon is different! This isn’t a big deal at all, but of course we are bacon lovers and we had a fun time trying to convince Cathy that crunchy bacon is superior to floppy bacon. She wouldn’t budge on this one! The bacon slices are huge, and contain not only the belly strip but the round of the chop as well. It’s like a combination of American bacon and Canadian bacon. Australian meat is really delicious, and they still process their pigs with the skin intact (rather than skinning them like so many of our American butchers these days), so we enjoyed that aspect very much.

Our last couple days in Australia were wonderful. We drove through gorgeous “hinterland” scenery in the hillsides just inland from the coast and passed through a town called Maleny. We didn’t have time to stop and explore, but even driving through I could tell Maleny was a place in which I could happily live! The hillsides were covered in pink and purple blooms, and the ridgeline offered amazing views of the valley below while the Pacific twinkled in the distance. The town itself was comprised of cool local shops and the vibe was very laid back and independent. It seemed a perfect place for a small, sustainable CSA farm, although I think the property price tag would be a tad prohibitive!

Our last night was spent at Dicky Beach outside the town of Caloundra. This was the most expensive caravan park of our trip, and it was obviously a popular destination for city folks from all around Southern Queensland. The caravan park was HUGE and lacked character, but the proximity to the beach was the real draw. For dinner we went into town and tried to use our outdated library copy of the Lonely Planet guidebook, and were laid astray again. We read about a cool pub called CBX, which stands for Caloundra Beer Exchange. Apparently the beers on tap are all priced according to global market prices and there are ticker signs up that stream the live market prices. We thought it would be fun to check this out, as it is apparently one-of-a-kind. When we arrived we were obviously mistaken…the beers had set prices and nothing seemed any different than any other pub. The girls behind the bar looked at us like we were crazy, before one mentioned that she thinks they had ticker signs up a few years ago “or something.” They weren’t even able to recommend good beers or ciders because, as one admitted, “I don’t really drink beer.” Oh, good thing you’re working at a bar then! (Another instance where some internet research might have helped us pick a better place for food and drink!)

The next morning Andrew woke up early to watch the sunrise on the beach, and I lazed in the tent while a cacophony of tropical birds greeted the coming day. We bid farewell to the Pacific (on this side of the world anyway) and headed into the Glasshouse Mountains for a quick day hike. The Glasshouse Mountains are strange volcanic spires that jut out from the valley floor, and our short hike afforded amazing views. When we passed other hikers they greeted us with “g’day!” which was exciting because it was the only time we really heard people use this phrase on our entire trip. We returned to Brisbane that evening, and spent a nice time with Cathy and Lee relaxing and packing up for our return home. I was glad to spend some final quality time with my cousin, and even got to say goodbye to my little possum friend who was lurking in the tree outside. The next morning we may have boarded the plane with our pockets turned inside out, but our hearts were bursting with rich experience.

Australia is such an amazing, diverse continent. As a child I always dreamed of visiting Australia (who doesn’t?!), and would send my exotic cousins Hershey bars and peanut butter while eagerly awaiting the Cadbury chocolates and vegemite return packages. Now I have been there and met my cousins in the flesh. I have explored, camped, hiked, sweated, itched, and gaped around both Eastern and Western Australia, and it’s fair to say I can check this off my “bucket list.”

Except. Except. Australia was so amazing, and there’s much more to see (and let’s not forget New Zealand!), so I may have only succeeding in whetting my appetite. Fair warning Australia: I reckon we’ll be back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail!

The Best Vacation Ever Part 3: Eastern Australia (Part 2!)

Our adventures in Eastern Australia continued up the coast a few hundred miles at Fraser Island, part of Great Sandy National Park in Queensland. Fraser Island (known as K’Gari (Paradise) to the native Butchulla people) is the world’s largest sand island, which means that there is no rock to be found. Despite this strange occurrence, the island is a wonder of diverse environments including rain forests, eucalyptus woodlands, and peat swamps. To access the island you are required to take a ferry, and we soon discovered that 99.9% of visitors to Fraser Island rent giant four-wheel drive vehicles (or join a tour), so they can zip all over the island and rocket around the sand dunes while stopping here and there to appreciate tidbits of the scenery. Since we had a wimpy two-wheel drive rental car, and because we tend to go against the grain when it comes to travel, we proudly boarded the ferry as the sole passengers who were sans vehicle.

Our ten-kilometer hike from the ferry terminal to Lake McKenzie was relatively flat and uneventful, although walking on sand is inherently difficult. Every once in a while we heard the revving of a vehicle engine beyond the tree line, but we didn’t see a single soul on our hike. We arrived at Lake McKenzie (Boorangoora) while a tour group was lounging about, so we hiked on to the campsite and set up our tent in the hopes that the crowds would soon scamper on to their next destination. Fraser Island is home to Australia’s largest and purest dingo population, and over the years there have been several aggressive encounters between people who are picnicking irresponsibly and dingoes who are hungry scavengers. Because of this the government has gone a little overboard and posts signs all over the island about how to avoid dingoes, to keep food locked up, be vigilant, etc etc. Our campground was even enclosed by an 8’ tall chain link fence to keep dingoes out. I was apprehensive about all the dingo warnings, but we neither saw, nor heard, any howling dingo packs while we were there, much to Andrew’s disappointment.

After the crowd thinned out we headed back down to the lake. Lake McKenzie is a perched lake that sits on the top of an old sand dune, and is comprised of 100% raindrops. It is one of cleanest lakes in the world, and it was one of the most beautiful bodies of water I have ever seen. The sand in the lake is almost pure silica, and the water is a gorgeous blue with an aquamarine band around the shallow lakeshore. The water is warm and inviting, and we spent plenty of time relaxing in the slightly acidic water which, combined with the soft silica sand, made for some great exfoliation (we even used it to clean stains off our teeth)!

The next day we hiked out a different trail that was previously closed due to fire damage. It turned out that they hadn’t gone in to clear the trail yet, so we spent hours climbing over and under fallen trees and branches in the scorching sun. I was a little grumpy by the end, but we came out of the woods onto a gorgeous beach, and a quick dip in the tropical Pacific Ocean restored my Zen. After lazing around a resort pool (cocktails in hand!), we boarded our ferry back to the mainland and set our sights further up the coast on a little town called Yepoon.  We found a nice caravan park near the road, and though we arrived late a very gregarious man answered the door and gave us a nice spot in the park. We relaxed here and enjoyed hot showers, a laundry room, and tremendous wildlife including rainbow lorikeets, Kookaburras, and giant flying foxes (fruit bats)! I was obsessed with the flying foxes, and spent much of my time watching them fly around, bobbing upside down as they clung to flimsy branches while bickering over choice morsels from the abundant trees.

The next morning we watched the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean, a real novelty for us American west coasters, before heading further up the coast to pick up cousin Cathy, who caught a flight up from Brisbane to spend the weekend camping with us. The three of us explored the tourist hot spot of Airlie Beach (pronounced Air-lee), which turned out to be full of young, drunk backpackers. A “backpacker” in Australia isn’t really someone who backpacks or hikes, but is a person who goes around the country staying in youth hostels. I am still a young, adventurous person, but being surrounded by drunken teens and early 20-somethings made me glad I was experiencing the wonder of Australia at my more “mature” age.

Our original plan was to book a ferry ride out to Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsunday Islands, which is considered to be the most beautiful beach in the world. This was to be the pinnacle of our Eastern Australia tour; a quiet weekend spent loafing on the pure white sand, floating in the clear, bathtub-warm water, reading in a hammock, well…you get the idea. Unfortunately for us, Mother Nature had a different set of plans. The weather along the north coast of Queensland had been blustery for weeks, with cyclones spinning along the coast and bouncing back off to sea, dumping inches of rain in their wakes. We hit the tail end of one such storm, and the boat company refused to take us all the way out to Whitehaven Beach (a 1.5 hour ride) because the water was really choppy and they didn’t want us to be stranded if the weather grew worse. The only option we had was to get a 10 minute ferry ride to the closest and smallest island in the chain, known as South Molle (pronounced mole) island.

South Molle Island was underwhelming, mostly because it did not fit into our preconceived notion of this trip. The beach was full of coral and shells, which was neat to look at but not so great for lying upon. The water was cold and choppy, and though we rented special lycra bodysuits to protect against jellyfish stings, the weather was never nice enough to actually go swimming. We spent the majority of our weekend hunkered down under a tarp reading or playing cards, soaking wet from the rain and high humidity. We managed to take a short hike into the island interior on one afternoon, but much of our time was spent debating whether to call the boat company for a bail out. After one wet and squally night on the island we finally made up our minds to raise the white flag, but the boat company informed us that the water was too choppy for them to come early and we’d just have to wait until the next day. While it wasn’t the ideal summer getaway, we are proud to say we survived near-cyclonic weather on little South Molle Island, and not just anyone can say that!

When we finally returned to dry land, we found a nice beach during an early sunbreak. I took a dip while Cathy read her book on the beach and Andrew snoozed in a hammock. It was only an hour or two’s worth of the vacation we’d wanted, but we felt rejuvenated and though Cathy boarded her plane in dirty clothes and windswept hair, her spirits were high. We said goodbye, knowing we’d see her soon again back down in Brisbane.

After that little misadventure, I was more than ready for the next stop on our journey. We headed into the rainforest to stay at the “Platypus Bushcamp,” which our Lonely Planet guidebook made sound like paradise on Earth. We were expecting hot tubs under the rainforest canopies, beds on platforms in the trees where you can look down and watch the platypuses swim by, and fire pits where campers gather together to share meals. Apparently we should have paid more attention to the season, because in order to get to the camp we had to ford two mini rivers that were flowing over the roadway. This should have been an indication of things to come, but we were determined to get there so we drove on with high expectations. When we arrived, it was apparent we had made a mistake. There were no tents, cars, or people anywhere in sight. We walked through a crazy maze of handmade wooden structures towards the sound of a television, and stumbled upon a zany old man drinking a beer and watching a movie with his dog at his feet. He was just as surprised to see us, and informed us that there was no hot water or beds to be had, as it was the rainy season and there are no tourists this time of year. He offered to let us camp out anyway, but as mosquitos the size of golf balls swarmed, the thought of another wet night in a tent without hot showers was too much and we drove back towards civilization. This was the only time on the east coast we decided to splurge on a hotel room, but after hot showers and mediocre Thai food, we settled into bed to watch movies on the TV and knew we’d made the right choice.  Sometimes you have no recourse but to take a vacation from your vacation!

(Stay tuned for the final installment of the Best Vacation Ever!)

The Best Vacation Ever Part 3: Eastern Australia (Part 1!)

After catching a red-eye flight to Brisbane, Andrew and I picked up a rental car, something we were quite nervous about. Of course we’d been in Australia for two weeks already, and had sort of gotten used to the idea of being in a car on the left side of the road, but actually driving said car was another story. First of all, all of the buttons and gadgets are reversed, so every time we tried to signal we wound up just turning on our wipers. Which is a problem, because in Australia signaling for every little turn or lane change is extremely important. We were on the receiving end of a few angry honks over the course of our trip, although we did do our best to rapidly shut off the wipers (after muttering curses) and flip the right lever in time. The other real challenge to driving on the left is that the driver instinctually veers away from traffic and winds up driving on the shoulder. This is where being a passenger is extremely difficult. I kept yelling at Andrew to “get off the shoulder!” but when I got behind the wheel, I wasn’t any better.  Our goals for driving from the airport to my cousin Cathy’s apartment were simple: 1) don’t get lost, 2) don’t cross a toll road, and 3) don’t drive on the wrong side of the road. As you might expect, we accomplished all three of these mistakes on the short drive over, but sometimes learning things the hard way is the best way. And thankfully no one was injured (except our poor wallet which kept having to shell out for those pesky toll roads!)

Cousin Cathy is awesome. I’ve gotten to “know her” a bit through the magic of facebook, so I knew we’d be friends, but actually being with her in person was like being with a family member I’ve known all my life! She and her boyfriend Lee were very hospitable, and let us loaf on their couch while we were in Brisbane. We arrived in the morning before they left for work, and after a nap we hit the walking trail that follows the Brisbane River. We wound up spending over three hours walking the city, checking out the local scene and cursing at the rental bicycles that require some kind of membership card, stymieing casual tourists like ourselves.  That night we met most of my Australian relatives (being part of the Jewish diaspora has its perks!), as we celebrated cousin Larry’s 23rd birthday at a Nepalese restaurant. Afterwards we hit a few bars that were sort of “American themed” in that they had taxidermy animals only found in the wilds of North America, and country/rockabilly style music was the flavor du jour. It felt a little bit like when we went to an Australian themed bar in Hong Kong: the names of things were right but the vibe was very foreign!

The next day Cathy and Lee took us to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary where we met up with her sister Jen and her hilarious toddler Eric. We roamed around the exhibits, marveling at all of the marsupials. I had a hard time getting it through my skull that there are very few mammals in Australia, so I kept asking “that’s a marsupial too?!?” We fed and petted some kangaroos and wallabies, and we got to watch a couple platypuses swim about. This was especially interesting because they’re only about a foot in length, and totally adorable. For some reason I assumed they were man-sized! Of course the highlight of this trip was getting to hold a fuzzy, sleepy koala while I got my photo taken. According to the collection of photos in the gift shop, I joined the likes of such celebrities as Marilyn Manson, Cher, and Daft Punk, so I know it was a real fair dinkum experience. (That’s also something almost no one really says much, but I think it’s great anyway!)

That night Cathy made us a delicious lamb roast, which is one of the most amazing things about Australia. There, lamb is very commonly consumed (and I love lamb!), and most meats are reasonably priced and raised on pasture. The beef industry is starting to mirror ours however, and the grain-finished feedlot model is sadly catching on. As a side note, as a farmer who raises hens, I know from experience and research that eggs do not need refrigeration in order to stay safe for consumption. The FDA has strict rules in place to reduce any chance of contamination or bacterial growth because of the kinds of conditions most egg laying flocks are maintained in this country. In Australia, unrefrigerated eggs are the norm. Grocery stores just stock them on the shelves, which I found to be very refreshing since most Americans are deathly afraid of leaving eggs out on the counter.

The next morning Andrew and I set off down south to a coastal town called Byron Bay to meet an old friend of mine for lunch. Unfortunately we didn’t know that driving into New South Wales meant a time change (time zones generally don’t shift when you drive south!), so we totally stood my friend and her husband up by mistake. Happily Byron Bay was a quant little town that reminded me very much of Ocean Beach in San Diego, with oodles of young hippie types milling around and lending a very laid-back vibe to the area. We wandered down to the beach and set up our towels to soak up some sun, when all of a sudden a commotion appeared. A semi-circle of people started walking up the beach towards us, and it took me a minute to realize they were following a snake. Now, where I come from the only snakes to worry about have rattles, and I’ve worked in animal sanctuaries and the like for years, so snakes do not bother me one bit. I just watched this horde walk towards me as the snake slithered by, obviously just trying to get under a rock somewhere. He got within two feet of me, and all of a sudden this lady starts yelling at me: “Get AWAY! Get AWAY!!! That’s a BROWN snake! Are you CRAZY!?” The normal thing to do would be to jump up and run after hearing that, but my mind said “what the heck is a brown snake?” and I stayed right where I was. I know enough about snake behavior to know he wasn’t threatened by me, nor was he showing aggression, so I didn’t sweat it. Later on I did some research and learned the “brown snake” is the world’s second most venomous ground snake. I learned an important lesson in that moment: you can’t really be afraid of all of the deadly, poisonous wildlife of Australia if you don’t know what to look for! Next time, I guess I’ll give the snake a wide berth!

Later that day we drove up into the mountains to spend the night at Border Ranges National Park. We found our campsite in the dark, and crawled into our tent to listen to exotic and, at the time, slightly terrifying creatures of the night. Very similar to our night outside of Yellowstone (remember? When the wolves or bears walked by while we were roasting marshmallows?), I laid awake waiting for the tent to get ripped open by claws from the Drop Bear or some deadly creature while Andrew snored merrily away next to me. The next morning we hiked up a small trail that opened with beautiful panoramic views of the mountain ranges, which cemented it as one of my favorite places we visited in Eastern Australia. Especially after later experience and consultation from Cathy revealed the loud noises were likely caused by adorable possums (not to be confused with American opossums…they’re very different, people! Look it up!).

Our Eastern Australian adventures are diverse and plentiful, so I will post a couple more blogs rather than overwhelm you with one giant one. But stay tuned to read about hiking on a dingo-infested island, giant fruit bats, camping in near cyclonic-weather, a rain-forest fail, sea turtle hatchlings, and more! (Sorry for sounding like a commercial! I don’t get paid for this, I swear!)

A Year to Remember

In October 2010 while living in San Diego, on a whim, I decided to raise some money to attend a fundraising camping trip out in Joshua Tree National Park. I was newly single, working full time, attending school, and looking for a fun new way to meet people and get outside of my routine. That fateful weekend was when I first met Andrew, who was a guide on the trip. He seemed pretty cute under his greasy, dirty bandana and scruffy facial hair, but I wasn’t sure this hippie kid was for me. He tried to impress me with his knowledge of the constellations, and over the next several months would take me on late-night excursions to nearby hilltops to observe the cosmos free from the glare of city lights.

That was the first indication I had that maybe there was more to Andrew than dirty feet and a freewheeling lifestyle, but it didn’t stop there. I often found myself listening to his philosophical rants, not quite understanding his logic but fascinated with his interest and curiosity about matters of the mind and soul. His hugs were (and are) incredibly warm and comforting. He has wonderful, crinkly laugh lines that light up his face and soften my heart. He is incredibly stubborn, and loves a good argument, but is quick to apologize when he gets overzealous and accidentally hurts my feelings.

Andrew has changed me in ways I never expected when I first met him. Or rather he has allowed me to change and grow by encouraging me, nurturing me, and exposing me to new and exciting things. In the past two years I have gone from a dissatisfied, rather bored, uncertain consumer to a confident, energized, adventurous producer. Starting with our first Christmas together, we decided no store-bought presents were allowed. We rarely stray from this rule. That first year I gave him a painting of his dog Zephyr. For his birthday last week I commissioned a cool guy I found on Craigslist to make a BBQ out of a burn barrel. It sure beats wandering around the mall, trying to make a mass-produced item “fit” my unique, one-of-a-kind, wonderfully picky husband!

One year ago Andrew and I took our vows of foreverhood, among friends and family in the beautiful desert where we first met. Since that moment, my life has been nothing but a whirlwind of awesomesauce. Yeah, that good. Obviously there are moments where we argue, or where things are difficult. We are human, and we are both stubborn. But when I take a quiet moment to think back on how much fun, adventure, love, joy, and warmth I have experienced this past year I am blown away. This has certainly been the best year of my life, and I know that from this point forward it is only going to get better. With Andrew as my partner, I am confident I can navigate this crazy world blissfully and with a passion that only he can inspire.

Happy one year anniversary my Love! Here’s to many, many more!