Thursday, 28 February 2008

We got up at 5:45 again, it’s just too light too early here. What’s up with their wacky time zones? We finished up our school and debated whether we wanted to stay one more day. The day was dawning sunny, and Google warned it would rain later in the day up the coast. As we debated, the sky began to cloud and we decided to go with our original plan. We took off, the kids finished up their school as we drove, and we took a detour through the Glass House Mountains. Our guide book had said the detour was well worth it, and we agreed as we saw the black mountains rising up above the green all around us.

It was beginning to feel very tropical, almost humid, and everything was green and growing and buzzing when we got out of the camper at the scenic lookout. We spotted a big lizard and some interesting birds as we looked around at the strange formations, the Glass House Mountains, named because the explorer, James Cook, was reminded of the glass furnaces in his hometown when he saw them on the horizon. They were all that was left of volcanoes, they had been the lava plugs and all the earth around them had long eroded away. We took a short hike, noticing spider webs and bird calls and funky ferns along the way. I put on my safari eyes and was on high alert for wild kangaroos or wallabies, but I didn’t see anything.

After our detour we headed onwards, turning off on a small, two-lane highway for the last 40 kilometers. We arrived in a surfy, laid back town with a restaurant, gas station, and grocery store along the main road. We actually checked into our campervan park in the gas station, and found it fairly empty. A few retired people lounged near their campers. We’re old pros by now, backing into our spots, plugging in and getting settled in no time. I headed to the beach with the kids while Clay stayed behind to see if he could get on the Internet. Once again, this beach was very different from the ones we’d seen before. The kids were actually disappointed at first, the waves broke on a sand bar that was hard for them to reach, then piddled on into the beach. Not boogie board worthy. Little rocks were scattered everywhere in the sand, hard on the feet, and the beach was really small compared to the ones we’d seen before. It ended in cliffs on one side, and was shallow on the other, not much room between the dunes and the water, as it curled around towards Fraser Island.

I had built this beach up as being something wonderful, after reading about it in the guide book. Clay arrived and we traded so I could put on my running clothes. I passed some seedy-looking men, construction workers, as I headed back to the camper to change. Ick. I changed, stretched, and hurried back to the beach, past the staring men who stopped their conversation to stare as I passed by. G’day, pervs. Clay had the kids out in the water, they seemed to be enjoying it more, so I took off at a slow pace around the narrow strip that curved towards Fraser Island. The beach was pretty deserted, the sky was overcast and it was 5 o’clock or so. I passed a couple of people, a few walking their dogs, and then a couple of big, 4WD trucks driving on the sand. I kept looking up at the end of the curve, where the land jutted out into a point, my goal was to make it there. I was thinking about story ideas, lost in my thoughts, and each time I looked up it was a little closer.

I began to get uneasy, would I ever reach the tip? I wasn’t sure how long I’d been running, I didn’t bring a watch, but I wondered if Clay was getting worried. I felt like I’d been gone a long time. Still, I wanted to reach that goal, I wanted to see what lay beyond the tip, where the coastline curved back around. I ran, looked up, ran some more, but it no longer seemed like it was getting closer. I wondered what would happen to me if someone jumped out from behind the dunes and grabbed me. It was totally remote, I hadn’t passed anyone in ages. I looked over my shoulder and I couldn’t even see Clay or the kids, not even as little specks. I was too far away.

I turned around without making it to the point, and started the long run back. I passed lots of little blue bottles (the things that stung us at Bondi Beach) stranded on the sand, we were lucky they didn’t seem to be down on our little stretch of beach. I ran and ran and ran, and I got really tired. How long had I been running? I finally got back, to find the boys hiding behind a dune and Alayna buried up to her head in sand. She had a little kid body made of sand coming out from her neck, and the boys were snickering from behind their hiding place, proud of their work. Alayna thought it was pretty funny, too. The boys came running out to see what I thought, Clay wasn’t upset or worried but asked, “How long were you gone? It seemed like a long time.” It was.

We gathered all our things and headed back to the campervan, where everyone showered while I cooked dinner. The advantage of this system is that when dinner is over, I go shower while everyone else cleans up the kitchen and washes the dishes. Not a bad system.


Friday, 29 February 2008

When we woke up this morning the sun was shining and blue sky could be seen all around us. The kids did their school inside and outside the campervan, then Clay took the kids to the beach while I caught up on the journals. I met them at 12:30, admired the giant hole Clay and Benji had dug, listened to Nate’s play-by-play of the most exciting waves he’d ridden on his boogie board, and laughed at Alayna as she tried in vain to knock all the sand off herself. We decided to eat lunch in “town”, at one of the restaurant along that main strip we’d seen the day before. Actually, it seems to be the only strip, but there were plenty of options. I got vegetarian nachos, thinking they’d put beans on them, along with the cheese and sour cream and guacamole. I was surprised to find carrots, green beans, and broccoli on my nachos, along with the usual cheese and sour cream. It was actually pretty good, as was Alayna’s burrito and Clay’s chicken wrap. I’m getting all kinds of recipe ideas for when we get home.

Benji was practically falling asleep in his chair, so I took him back to the campervan. Clay followed shortly after with the other two kids, and Benji took a monster two hour nap on the bed next to Clay. Clay napped and read awhile. I continued to work on the journal entries, Nate read Harry Potter and Alayna did origami. “Look mom, it’s a tissue holder that holds two tissues,” she’d say, or “Check out this, it’s a party hat for my stuffed raccoon.” She’s really talented at it, though sometimes she gets so frustrated she crumples up her paper in despair. She always comes back to it, after a break, and makes something else amazing.

It began to rain outside, I closed up all the windows and turned on the air. It was nice and cozy and quiet that afternoon, everyone in their own worlds for awhile. I made a trip to “the strip” and discovered a great grocery store. I stocked up, and even bought a couple of boxes of ice cream treats. I hurried back home through the heavy drizzle, and got to the camper just as Benji was waking up. As I took him to the bathroom he seemed a little sheepish about his long nap. “That’s the longest nap I’ve took since I was four, because four is when you’re still a baby, and kids my age don’t take naps very often . . .” he went on. Everyone shook themselves out of their worlds and shifted, Clay to the computer, me to a book, the kids to the legos. Alayna made a stagecoach with two oxen. I’m constantly amazed at all the different things they can create out of the same pieces. Legos are awesome.

We ate dinner, watched another Gidget, went to bed. Benji wasn’t nearly as tired as anyone else after his mega-nap. He popped up at one point and said, “That’s really weird, how Siamese twins can ride a bicycle.” I can only imagine what was going through his head up in that loft. He eventually drifted off to sleep, rain continued to patter against the windows. We’re hoping for a dry day tomorrow, we’ve got plans to go to Fraser Island for the day, joining a tour in a 4WD vehicle. Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world, it’s made entirely of sand with no rocks or coral anchoring it. While swimming in the ocean around it is discouraged, due to sharks and dangerous currents, it has a natural freshwater lake on it that will be fun to swim in. I read something about avoiding the wild dingoes, who knows what adventure tomorrow will hold. 


Saturday, 1 March 2008

When I woke up this morning I lifted the curtain and saw blue sky. It’s cool, the way you can do things in this camper without ever getting up. Like I keep my drink on the kitchen counter at dinner, less spill potential than if it were on the table. And Clay can get the butter out of the fridge without ever leaving the table. I rejoiced at our morning sunshine, it would be a pretty day for our trip to Fraser Island! We gave the kids a break from school, we’ve done it every day since we left Sydney. It felt like a weekend, it felt like a Saturday, it was a Saturday!

Our 4WD vehicle picked us up at the gas station in front of our campervan park. It was a big bus with huge tires, not what I expected. I expected something a little cooler looking when I thought of 4WD. The seats on the bus were all the colors of the rainbow, and on each headrest there was a fuzzy, deep pile piece of carpet you could sink your fingers into. Maybe the ride would be rough, if we needed carpet padding for our heads. We picked up a variety of other people before we began our tour, assorted families and couples. Our driver would also be our guide, he had a headset strapped on and a microphone, we were part of a large tour bus group. Yikes.

Our driver was actually very funny, he told some almost dirty jokes, jokes that made me cringe as I wondered how far he’d go with the kids in the bus, but then he always ended them in a nebulous way. A dry humor, he never laughed at his own jokes. He explained about the environmentally friendly potties in the area, with their fans that sucked the methane (MEE-thane) gasses away. He cautioned that if you entered a toilet and the fan continued running, you shouldn’t entirely cover up the hole, or you’d get stuck. It would suck you right onto the potty. “And it’s awful embarrassing to call for help, sometimes it takes two or three to pull you off of there.” I was hysterically laughing in my seat at this oddball character, this new face in the street, with his Steve Irwin accent and his strange sense of humor.

He pulled our giant bus onto a barge that carried us the ten minutes across the water to Fraser Island. He offered the passenger seat up front next to him to all of us, and of course Nate took him up on it. He rode up front and got a great view as we barreled down the beach in our big old bus, crashing through the water as the surf pummeled the sand and bouncing over bumps at high speed. We all had seat belts on, and the kids sitting in the back screamed in delight as they were catapulted up and down. Our first stop, after a little morning tea, was Lake McKenzie. We drove through a dense forest to reach the lake, with trees that towered high above our heads. These trees had no lower branches, only the ones at the top that stretched above us, making a green canopy that filtered the pretty sunlight down to us. The road was rough and bouncy, I was impressed by what our big bus could take on. I was thankful we’d taken the tour instead of renting our own 4WD and trying to navigate all over this island. It was bigger, and tougher, than it looked.

Lake McKenzie is a freshwater lake on the island, the only reason the water doesn’t soak right into the sand is because there is compressed vegetation sealing up the bottom. It was cold at first, but delicious once we got used to it. The water was crystal clear, and barely rippled against the shore when the wind ruffled the surface. Where it dropped off, the water turned a dark blue, but in the shallower parts you could see the fine, white sand very clearly. There were a group of twenty-somethings on the beach that were very serious about a large sand castle they were making. They had real metal shovels and everything. Alayna and the boys got out and began to dig a large hole, we all let ourselves air dry before we re-entered the bus. Clay and I chatted with the bus driver, who told us about the time a death adder was curled up under the step on his bus, and all his forty passengers stepped right over it without noticing. He told us about the times he camped right on the shore of the lake (they don’t allow this anymore). “If you stuck your feet out one side, they were in the water. Out the other side, they hit the trees,” he said.

Our driver claimed swimming in the waters made you look ten years younger. I felt just fine, I was sure some of my gray hairs, recently appearing brown spots, and cellulite, had been left behind in the waters of Lake McKenzie. Our next stop was at Central Station, where we went on a short hike through those enormous trees. Our driver knew the names of all the trees, and the words “I am familiar with all your ways . . .” passed through my head, from Psalm 139. We’ve been memorizing it as a family, I love those words. We crossed over a crystal-clear creek, water so clear it was barely there. Its white, sandy bottom looked like a path through the trees. An eel glided silently by, paying us no attention as it made its wiggly way down the creek.

Our driver showed us the innocent-looking hole of a spider so poisonous “you have about fifteen minutes” if you get bit. Fifteen minutes before you die. I eyed the hole from a distance. He claimed the spider mostly came out at night, but when he was a younger and stupider guide he would stick a blade of grass in the hole and make the spider come out to show his tour groups. He said he did this until one day, when the spider that came out was irritated and aggressive, and suddenly in the midst of his forty passengers, who panicked. He decided that wasn’t such a good idea. I’m glad we’re with the older and wiser driver he is today.

We were taken to a local resort for a buffet lunch, and rain fell in big sheets while we ate. Our morning had been sunny, and the rain let up just as we boarded out bus again. Perfect timing. We continued up the coast, checking out the famous colored sands. I was expecting all the colors of the rainbow, like an aurora borealis in sand, but what we encountered were some miniature sand cliffs in all the colors of brown, from a light yellow-ish brown to a deep reddish brown. Not nearly as exciting as my imagination, but they still were pretty cool when you stood at a distance. They looked like a mini-version of massive sandstone cliffs. Next, our driver took us to a shipwreck that had washed up on the shores years ago. All that was left of this once magnificent cruise liner was the rusting iron bones, nobody had been hurt in the shipwreck, it was being towed when a storm hit. We weren’t allowed within ten feet of it, a sign warned that it was dangerous. Australia is much more like America in that sense, more law-suit conscious.

Our last stop of the day was crystal-clear Eli Creek. You could wade down the creek in the light current, which eventually spilled out into the ocean. I opted to take pictures, the day was turning windy and cloudy and a little bit cold, when we got to the beach the wind picked up the sand and pelted us with it. We began the long drive back down the beach towards the barge, I was feeling a little drowsy. Suddenly there was big excitement up front, a dingo had been spotted trotting along the side of the road. There are strict instructions about dingoes on the island, they were once fed by visitors, and had become aggressive. One killed a boy back in 2001, and strict instructions were issued to have no contact with the dingoes. Signs were everywhere, warning visitors not to feed them. What to do if they attacked.

Everyone on the bus ran to the front to get a look and a picture of this fierce creature, the size of a regular dog. Its tongue hung out and it trotted along quite peacefully, it didn’t look like a dangerous creature, but the story of the young boy that had been mauled to death flashed through my head and I cringed. It was like the days of the safari in Africa, our giant bus following this little guy while we all got our pictures from the safety of our vehicle.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. I watched the waves crash on the shore with drowsy eyes, half-heartedly watching for a dorsal fin. All sorts of sharks are seen in the waters of this island, and the waves are always breaking. Big ones never make it to shore, they are met by waves on their return trip and there is crashing and foam all the time, all over the place. I saw no sharks, but I wondered about them. Those same sharks that come to Fraser Island must sometimes make appearances back at Rainbow Beach, it wasn’t that far. Our kids swam at Rainbow Beach, had they been swimming with sharks? We asked our bus driver about them, he said the swimming is safer at Rainbow Beach because a lifeguard is there keeping his eyes peeled. But we had swum long after the lifeguard left our first night at the beach. I counted our blessings, thanks the angels that kept us safe from shark jaws, and vowed we’d do no more evening swimming in these shark-infested waters. No worries, we’d be leaving in the morning anyway.

When we got back to the campervan park, it was teeming with kids. There had been lots of new arrivals while we’d been gone all day. Our kids went outside and quickly made friends with a girl and two boys, and played chase as they sky went dark and the stars came out. The family next to us is preparing to take their kids out of school and travel around Australia for two or three years in their camper. They were on their trial run this weekend. Wow, I was impressed. I wonder if they’ll keep a website, I’d love to keep up with them and hear how it goes.

They told us about how different the beach looked since the storms came a few months ago. So that explained it, the guide books just raved about Rainbow Beach. Apparently, the beach was once much larger, but major erosion occurred during the storms. I was sad we missed it in its glory days, and we speculated how long it would take to build back up again.

It was so good for our kids, to run around with other kids for awhile. It reminded me of the days when I was a kid and we went to the farm with our cousins and ran around in the night, catching fireflies and playing tag. They made plans to play again in the morning, then everyone went back to their campers for dinner and bed. We watched Gidget after dinner, singing the theme song at the tops of our voices. It is becoming a cult following, our watching of Gidget. Like the Rocky Horror Picture Show or something. I know I’ll always remember these days in the campervan whenever I hear that theme song . . .”Wait ‘till you see my Gidget, you’ll want her for your Valentine . . .”


Sunday, 2 March 2008

The kids woke up early this morning, earlier than any of the other kids in the campers around us. They tried to play quietly while they waited for their playmates to wake up, bouncing “pinkie” ball around. I went for a run, the tide was too high to run on the beach so I wound my way around a nearby neighborhood. A black dog joined me and made a good running companion for awhile, I don’t know where he came from but he seemed like he knew what he was doing. The kids around us finally stirred, and our kids played tag and chase and games with complicated rules they made up themselves while Clay and I got the camper set for another day on the road.

We chatted for a while with the parents of the kids in the next campervan, their names were Sue and Collin and they told us more about their plans to travel the country for two years. They gave us a peek in their camper and I was beset with campervan envy, theirs was much more functional. Because it’s a trailer that they pull behind a truck, they don’t have to fold their beds up every night to have a table (having just two kids helps), and they had more space than we do in ours. Collin gave us some advice about the best way to get on to our next destination, Tannum Sands, and we eventually gathered the kids. I found Alayna and her new friend, Ally, hiding in a bush from the boys. Everyone was red in the face and sweaty from running around like maniacs, getting as much play as they could into this last morning.

Ally and her brother Harrison were leaving that morning as well, they pulled out right in front of us. When they turned off on a different road, Clay followed, thinking they were heading the same direction as we were. They pulled their camper off the road, Clay pulled over as well, and it turned out they were going to their house instead, just a few kilometers down the road. Which is how we got ourselves invited to tea at their home, the Australians we’ve met are so friendly!

We got a doggy fix, petting their little puppy dog Daisy, she even had a spotted tummy like our dogs back home. The kids wolfed down sausages and lemonade and admired Harrison’s amazing lego creations. He made an exact replica of their campervan with legos, right down to the front trunk that swung open for storage, and the toilet seat that lifted up and down. Alayna got busy making origami creations for Ally, and the adults sat at the table and talked about places to visit in Australia, the price of petrol in the Outback (crikey!), and the time Collin was fishing in the surf and saw a shark swim just a few feet in front of him. It was great to share stories and tea and a few laughs before we got back on the road.

But get on the road we did, we still had a four hour drive in front of us. Nate fell asleep while working on his math, he was up at 5:30am reading his Harry Potter this morning. We passed through some beautiful country, green pastures and groves of trees. It was like what I imagine Anne Shirley’s first ride to Green Gables would have been like, for any L.M. Montgomery fans out there. When we arrived at our campervan park, it was only a quarter full, we had it mostly to ourselves. Lots of room to toss a football and run around.

Dinner was simple, we’re using up what we’ve got before we leave behind the campervan for four nights to go to Heron Island. Just two more days. Benji had his favorite, peanut butter and honey. I wonder if he’ll ever tire of it. Nate had macaroni and cheese, something he’s really enjoyed since we’ve acquired a microwave. And Clay enjoyed his noodle soup, revisiting that old taste of college days, ramen noodles. He eats a bowl of ramen almost every day, it’s his new thing. Tonight he spiced it up with a bit of leftover chicken. Mmmm, mmm, good. We all passed around a community water bottle, easier than using cups that have to be washed. I feel just like the pioneers, who kept a bucket on the front porch and a ladle used by all.

We ate on plastic plates, and we refilled our water bottle when we were all done so we can use it again tomorrow. We dry off our chin after brushing our teeth with the same towel we use to dry dishes, it’s the closest one. And I get on my knees and sweep sand off the floor at least four times a day, and at least four times a day I get an impressive little heap of sand and hair and who knows what all that’s been collecting on the floor. We’re getting up close and personal with life in a campervan, five people in one tight space, and it isn’t always pretty. Clay and I climbed into our “exfoliating sheets,” little grits of sand ever-lingering, no matter how much we vacuum them. Added to the sand are bits of Clay’s now shedding calves. For some reason they took three weeks before they began to peel. Like I said, it isn’t always pretty.