Big Question Marks

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Conquering the East

We can hardly believe it-- phase one of our trip is pretty much complete. We've conquered the east coast and lived to tell the tale! Tomorrow we'll head inland- after one more surfing hurrah earlier today, where we battled surfing "snakes" (one who "snakes", or steals one's wave) and the fierce waves of Surfers Paradise. Not to mention tomorrow our unpowered campsite on the Gold Coast goes up to $39 a night (as if $34 for a patch of grass near the beach wasn't enough!).

We've surprisingly grown quite fond of the Gold Coast, the flashy party beaches at the very south end of Queensland, and we've now been here for four days. Perhaps it's that mix of city comforts-- and skyscrapers-- combined with a tropical climate and a gorgeous, wide, squeaky-sand beach. It's supposed to be THE place in Oz for nightlife and restaurants... though we still prefer Melbourne for that. But if we did get really bored, at least we know we can go to a shooting range, mini-golf, cosmic bowling, a haunted house, and to countless brothels all in the same day.

The Gold Coast has been quite the contrast from our last few stops. After Coffs Harbour (where we first caught the surfing bug) we headed north up the coast to Byron Bay, a must-do on the backpacker trail, and as we found, a laid-back surf town with an interesting mix of hippie and yuppie. We resisted the urge to buy some tie-dye in what is truly the land of the VW Kombi, as well as resisted the surf (we'd heard the bay's full of sharks). But the people-watching was superb!

After Byron we headed for the mountains just inland to the otherworldly Nimbin... a sleepy town of rainbow-painted shops selling incense, patchouli oil, books on world religions and UFOs, and even some Hello Kitty trinkets. The pot dealers were out in swarms in front of the Nimbin Museum (a cobwebby, claustrophobic couple of dim rooms plastered in murals telling the story of the town), and there were lots of funny smells coming from the cafes. Some might say Nimbin is still living in 1973, when the legendary "Aquarius Festival" drew in students and hippie types from all over... some who perhaps never left. We decided to experience Nimbin slightly outside of town, in a privately-owned campground (er, hippie commune?) on a hill called Rainbow Retreat. We camped by a tree with a dreamcatcher hung from it and relaxed while a wallaby hopped around the grounds, and at dusk, searched for the elusive resident platypus. Everything from beer to internet to freshly-baked muffins was sold by the"just put the money into the box" method and it was pretty much the most chilled-out place ever, run by a man named Duck (we think?!) who got nostalgic to us about his days road-tripping through B.C. and Montana in his younger days. And at night everyone from the campground (except for this one guy who wore rainbow tiedye and lived in a neighbouring tent, we think for quite some time) gathered in the outdoor living room-- comfy old chairs around a big TV and black light decorations, just minus walls-- and watched Thelma and Louise with surround sound. Truly surreal, right up to the hand-sized Huntsman spider in the half-outdoor bathrooms at night. (eek!)

One thing we've been lacking on the east coast is some real characters, which perhaps we would have found had we stayed longer in Nimbin... the closest one we've found was a dude at the bottle shop here in the Gold Coast who informed us as we bought our Coronas, that the real reason for putting a slice of lime in the bottle is to keep the giant flies of Mexico out of the beer. Hmmm...

Another thing we're excited for in the Outback is the creatures! Yesterday we took a trip up to the Australia Zoo, home of Steve Irwin. There were lots of cool animals to check out (though many of them we've already seen in the wild... kangaroo...cassowary...crocodile... have we been here too long?) and we learned a bit as well. We saw crocs that were more than 100 years old-- Steve's dad started the zoo in the 1970s as a haven for crocs that were neglected in zoos or being nuisances in residential areas-- We finally got to see a Tassie devil, and the poor thing wasn't very fierce at all (and didn't spin in a tornado, either)-- but instead gallopped, piglike, in figure-eights around its enclosure-- impossible to get photos but quite funny. We also got to pet extremely tame kangaroos, and we even saw a fat wombat being led around on a leash! It was a pretty good zoo, aside from the endless Bindi Irwin songs played on the speaker system. Animal cruelty!

It's been a busy few weeks, but it's been exciting as well. We'll keep you posted from the Outback the best we can, as we dodge snakes (not the surfie kind), road trains, and feral camels...

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