October 12, 2002

Notes from Down Under, part the second

Byron Bay, New South Wales

It is with great reluctance that I leave Byron Bay. This is the chilled-out kind of beach town where people come for a day and stay for a month, and I've been here only a week. But verily it is one of life's great truths: you can live in a giant covered wagon for only so long before it's time to move on. And so in an hour's time I'll be on a bus to Queensland and the North.

Understand that I was only staying in the giant wagon because the giant teepee was full. Accomodation at the Arts Factory Lodge is a wee bit idiosyncratic. It's a good place, though, in a good town, with all kinds of things to do. In the last week I've been horseback riding, surfing, mountain biking, scuba diving (twice), and trapezing -- yes, trapezing -- and I still feel like I've been extremely lazy. In a good way.

It turns out I'm not a natural surfer. After a few hours of patient training I managed to wobble around in front of a few baby waves, but Zonker Harris I'm not. I am pleased to report that the trapezing came easier, and I was doing knee-hang catches and backflip dismounts like I was born to it -- maybe it's not too late to run away and join the circus after all.

But enough about me, let's talk about Oz.

The funny thing about Australia's east coast is that if you close one eye and squint with the other it looks a whole lot like California; green mountains, golden beaches, sunshine and surf hippies, wine regions, etc. It would be easy to believe, riding the bus through New South Wales and looking out the window, that you're in some particularly beautiful part of California. (All the country here is particularly beautiful.) But you would know, somehow, if you looked hard enough, that it's not; maybe because you'd realize that half the plants and trees are species you'd never seen before last week, or maybe because you see a kangaroo by the side of the road.

Roos are just one step up from vermin in Oz. Like baboons were, in Africa. Funny ol' world.

Another example: I went horseback riding a week ago -- and, despite it being my first time on a horse in fifteen years, with more trotting and cantering over rough rainforest tracks than I had expected (I had expected none) I was still able to walk the next day -- and the road up to the ranch could have been almost anywhere in Canada or America, until we stopped to investigate the four-foot python on the road ahead of us.

Turns out pythons don't much like having their tail grabbed. And who can blame them, really? I should have known better. Steve Irwin has much to answer for.

(No, actually it just slithered out of my grasp and quickly away.)

Well, I must away, to Brisbane and then a week in Cairns, where I intend to live on a boat for a few days of diving, then do some sea kayaking and rainforest trekking. Then I may head up to Papua New Guinea to climb a mountain. Because it's there, of course. Why else?

Faster, higher, stronger...

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