Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Not exactly around the world in 360 days OR That's all folks

It's hot in Ubud. 90 degree super humid hot. Melissa and I had just finished massages and manicures with our Arcata friends now living in Bali, Michelle and Kaila, and I'm going down...I was not feeling well but I'm dizzy and now attracting attention as I am laying on the sidewalk. A taxi driver appears (not unusual, every second person in Ubud has a 'taksi') He actually picked me up, which was some feat, as I think I outweighed him.The clinic was just a few clicks away, and by the time we got there my hands and legs were no longer numb. After waiting an hour, I described my symptoms to the doctor and she diagnosed parasites, and proceeded to start an IV cocktail. As I was quite dehydrated I soon felt better, and after a couple of hours in an observation room they let me go. I didn't think twice about the sorta grungy room, but it was a little disconcerting to see someone surreptitiously remove a half empty wine bottle as I was escorted in holding my pole. It was thoughtful of them to show me the sterile needle package. Thanks to modern medicine, albeit in a two star hotel setting (with a two star price), I'm all better now.

Melissa having a great time
on her first moto ride
Getting sick was not my plan for the last day of the last country of our trip...but so it goes. Better us than them, as when your kids are sick you are a little wrecked too. Tom is ailing a bit as well, as he took a tumble just hours before getting on the plane and now is walking with a decided limp, and has a toothache to boot.(or is that to mouth?) Time to go home~ The day and a half I spent laying around Melissa enjoyed being the nurse. We weren't doing much anyway. We were over the temples, stifled by the humidity, (did I mention it is hot in Bali?) done with shopping, and there were no waves. Bali is an incredible island of beauty, perpetual ceremony, omnipresent blessings, and resplendent daily offerings. But the other reality  is horrendous roads with way too many motorbikes and cars on them which means getting from one place to another requires fortitude. Regularly we revisit and rehash and linger over details of what we're looking forward to in Arcata. And what would that be? Our fabulous friends of course. Coming in second is sleeping in our own beds. Whenever we took a trip, my mom always said as we were pulling up in the driveway, "the best part of vacation is coming home."
Junking fishing boat

We traveled to a few different spots on the island, hanging at the beach in Sanur and riding cruiser bikes along the path, past street stalls, jungking fishing boats, locals at play, and plenty of tourists. For a few days we hung out further north in Amed, a small fishing village which boasted a shipwreck just offshore offering some prime snorkeling.  For our last stay in Bali we checked into Santi Madala, a little slice of peace positioned riverside and in the rice paddies, and across from a temple.The mighty fine restaurant with few customers, but lots of staff, served a tasty Pepes Ikan, which is a Balinese specialty, snapper steamed in banana leaf. As a bonus our room had a balcony for the many marathon scrabble games.We have had some slow days here in Bali. Getting plenty of sleep, lazing about, "chillaxing' as Eli puts it. But my what a lot of togetherness. There have been more than a few, uh, testy moments. But we know it's all part of the adventure. More than once this aspect of the adventure has been challenging. (oh, I meant to say a learning experience)

What a bonus it was to run into Andy, Michelle, and Kaila in Laos, and then be able to connect again in Bali! We feel like we don't know why we weren't friends in Arcata, we know a lot of the same people and had so much fun together. We'll plan to see them this summer when they come to visit. Monday after the fun in the clinic, they came over to our place and enjoyed the pool. Melissa and Kai (age 6) were fast friends by the time we left. Tuesday, in addition to being the day we had looked forward to for a long time because it was the day we started our journey HOME, we visited Green School, an  inspirational and difficult to describe international school where Andy teaches and Kai goes to 1st grade.The entire school, nestled in the jungle, is made of bamboo. Every building, desk, chair, basketball hoop, and soccer crossbar is bamboo. To say the architecture is stunning/incredible/beautiful/amazing just doesn't really say enough. Students from all over the world, aged 3 to 15, are enrolled as a community of young people invested in  learning and living sustainable practices.  The kids weed the organic garden where all the produce served in the lunches is grown, and participate in sports in the oval mowed by cows.There's a mud pit area for playing in and also for teaching an Indonesian martial art form, and gorgeous creative art and drama spaces. We only got a little taste as we were airport bound. (pouting face) Check it out. http://www.greenschool.org/

In addition to visiting Green school, we were also treated to a tour of nearby Green Village, a community in the process entirely built of yes Bamboo (and glass) Just one of the spectacular unique homes had been completed and  it was the most unusual home I have ever been in.  Stunning spiral design, set into the existing hillside, the doors to the homes are round glass, rimmed in bamboo, that revolve. Each handrail, closet door, table, window casing, counter, and knob was of phenomenal design.We were WOWED. It was an exceptional way to end our journey.

So, now in Sydney, this is the final paragraph of the final blog. Thank you to all my readers, it has been a treat to have your comments. I've enjoyed sharing our experiences through writing; getting the sentences right has a way of honing one's senses. I'll miss the challenges writing presents but I'm onto other tasks. Our year in Australia would not have been as sweet without the amazing friends we made...we already miss you so much. It is with great sorrow we are learning of the floods overtaking the entire southeast  QLD area. The beautiful country of Australia will always be dear to us for so many reasons. We were so lucky and so grateful to spend a year in such a magnificent place. May the rain stop soon!


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year from Bali

Gustatory sensations:dragon fruit, papaya, mangosteins, dried water buffalo, chicken sate, baguettes, water spinach, pork, rice, curries, onion, tomatoes, Ritz crackers, Milo cereal, sticky rice,coffee with condensed milk, rice, Los Bagels (just dreaming), fresh squeezed orange and tangerine juice,bananas, nasi goreng, scrambled eggs, rice noodles, noodle soup, phad thai from a street stall, spicy tempeh, and green mango dipped in chili/sugar/salt.

daily offerings in Bali

Voices in the past :Australian, Thai, Khmer, Laotian, Thai, Indonesian.Voices in the future: Thai, Australian  and..........Jan 13...................American!

Perrett Chatter: Zip up your suitcase we're leaving in 5 minutes. Is it the same time zone there? I'm tired of
sticky rice. How many days until we get home? THIS is my favorite place. Give me the camera. How do you flush this kind of toilet? I don't have the key, I thought you had the key. Wow, this is amazing. Can I use the computer? Guess what I beat Dad at Scrabble, AGAIN! I don't have any more clean underwear. Did you see that? Where's my ipod? Let's eat on the street. I love you.

Markets, markets, markets.....Khoa San Road, Bangkok: Eli goes crazy with the choices of 2 dollar surf logo t -shirts, Mel and Steph try the fish massage, letting fish eat the dead skin off our feet, Tom delights in seeing the kids soak up the street scene and take in this city he knows well. Siem Reap, Cambodia night market: Scarves of every persuasion piled high in hundreds of stalls. More t- shirts, jewelry, pants, toys, trinkets,
'same same but different' Luang Probang, Laos, Hmong handicraft market: hand sewn, hand glued,
hand woven, hand carried....rows and rows and rows of goods, set out each night at 5, then  packed up by 10, piled on the back of dozens of motos and driven back to the villages. 
beauty in Bali....everywhere
Mothers with babies: cooking, sweeping, washing, resting, thrashing rice,walking, harvesting rice, flattening bright green river weed destined to become nori-like crackers, tending market stalls, making tea, drying rice,
cutting hair, driving motos with their infant suspended in a hammock between the handlebars.

walking home in the rain after a mountain bike ride
Sights::Roosters in bamboo cages, at the ready for Bali's gambling obsession, cock fighting. 50 people in a funeral procession walking down the street. Full grown pig on the back of a moto on the way to market. Long stalks of rice filling up the trunk of a car, dragging on the ground as it passes us on bikes. Cambodian Taxi: a truck with 20 people holding on, sitting and standing on top of the bags of rice. The Ubiquitous white grain: being harvested, planted, thrashed, dried, eaten, made into wine, stored, separated, cooked, hauled, milled, and served everyday, everywhere, all the time. Asia= Rice
This is the food for 13 people for a whole day, plus the white stuff.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas in Luang Probang, Laos

Sunset over the Mekong
We've been reminding ourselves it's Christmas .....how can it be Christmas when we weren't at Lyle and Chris's house for Christmas Eve dinner, and we didn't have stockings to open this morning?  It's cooler here  than Cambodia, at the 20th parallel and in the mountains.  To appease the Christian tourists, a few plastic decorated trees are around, but it aint' the same!! The Perrett clan has succumbed to the reality of traveling and we are a bit under the weather, nothing serious but keeping us close to the accommodation today. Tom and Eli are brain engaged in scrabble, Mel is writing postcards to Australian pals, and here I am typing.......

Lao rice wine for sale
We stayed in Cambodia  for 9 days, 6 of which were at the project at Prolit village. On the weekend we were four of the three thousand visitors to Angkor Wat, the largest religious building in the world and home to tons of headless Buddhas as the heads were mostly all carted off by  the French and then the Khmer rouge. Sunday we got close and personal with silk worms, and took a slow boat to a floating village.At the project we all became attached to kids, families and other volunteers. Tom and Eli made quite a bit of progress working with the other guys building sanitation units, and Mel and I spent our time in the child welfare program. It required a bit of creativity to figure out how to make the best use of time when anywhere from 15 to 30 kids showed up on any one day. Aged between  3 and 18, most had quite minimal understanding of English. We had use of a  roofed structure with a cement floor, a white board, some flashcards, pens and paper, jump ropes,  matching cards, and a couple of tennis balls. Whatever we did they seemed to enjoy it, and I sleep better at night knowing they are all a lot better at singing BINGO than when we arrived.
200 or so monks 

Christmas dinner with Andy and Fam
At the moment we're in Luang Probang.  Nestled  in Central  northern Laos, it is a world heritage listed sight. Its beautiful and wonderful here but as we are in the traveling mode,  we are headed north to a small village called Nong Khiaw. And we have traveling companions! A few days ago we were at the night market and here comes someone wearing  a los bagels shirt, it's  Andy Slavin. He is a former teacher at SunnyBrae Middle School . He and his wife Michelle and 6 year old daughter Kyla are currently living and teaching  in Bali. They are here on holiday so we had Christmas dinner together. We're sharing a mini van and are driving up into the hills for a couple of days.

Mel and I on our beast
roasted pig head anyone?
Not being ones to sit around much, yesterday we embarked on a little expedition to an elephant camp. Mel was a little freaked at first as the Mahouts ( Elephant handlers) had fun with her and prodded the elephant to do a little trot to seem like it was out of control...... the guys were laughing as she was screaming. Next we headed to a very cool zip line, one of those tourist attractions not possible in USA due to the large number of barristers per capita. This only Loation zip has been open just  since last year and perhaps soon someone will tell them maybe they should do at least a few sentences of safety briefing....anyhoo the equipment was new, the guys seemed to know what they were doing, and it was FUN! The longest line was 200 meters so we were haulin' butt, zinging our way through the jungle.....

Today marks two things.......half way through our Asian adventure, and the day Tom and I met twenty years ago. Need to pack up now, we are leaving soon for parts north. Hill tribe villages, waterfalls, and heaps of fun in store no doubt. Thanks for staying tuned, I'm thinking I'll be turning out two or three more blogs and then that's all folks. Life in Arcata is wonderful BUT our goings on at home are much less interesting!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Street tales from Bangkok, and what we're up to in Cambodia

plastic wrapped Buddha images
 due to restoration work
Ok, I have learned. Never leave the accommodation without the camera! Surprises at every corner. Our third and last night in Bangkok we had dinner at a Thai place down the road. Tom ordered the special beverage and it came with a straw in it that was as long as his arm, but not as hairy. Eli had coconut juice, served in a bowling ball size coconut, and made the observation that a little coconut juice goes a long way. Mel had a 'cherry temple' which she proclaimed to be the most boring drink of all. I had a colorful apricot number adorned with an unripe banana.

This alleyway is deserted compared to most
After visiting just a hundred or so Buddha images, including a solid gold fellow weighing over 5 tonnes, we paid a taxi driver 100 baht (three dollars) to endure an hour of traffic to get  us to Chinatown.Visual, olfactory and auditory entertainment in the first degree was awaiting us along with mid day heat and humidity.These tightly packed alleyways were a hub of all things useful and useless. We wound our way into the inner lane ways momentarily thinking we were escaping motorized traffic, only to come across someone on a motorcycle  squeezing through the slowly moving humans.  Booth after booth sold watches, chandeliers, hub caps, skinned whole chickens, dried squid, herbs, washing machines, hello kitty etc, beads, hair ribbons, flower seeds... also in this labyrinth someone was making their way through with a dozen bolts of colorful fabric piled high behind the seat, and a child on the handlebars accompanied him.

The kids think the street scene is cool. After a couple of hours at the market  we were exhausted and hungry, so we quickly grabbed  the inches of space available at a eating establishment,  made it into four spots, and supped on delicious noodle soup. Mel found some nifty little earrings for 18 cents. Luckily we didn't lose track of each other as the squash of humanity seemed capable of swallowing us.

Eli and hammer are one
Onto Siem Reap, Cambodia for our volunteer placement. I can't really describe it accurately in a few sentences, but we are diggin' it. There is a python in a cage under our room that was being fed a live chicken just as we arrived, and the shower scenery overhead is bamboo. Real plants,  not pictures of bamboo.  The khmer people are beautiful, friendly, and small. Melissa is towering over most of the teenage kids and even some of the adults. We have now spent two days at the project, which is a small  rural village about 45 minutes away in a tuk-tuk from the volunteer H.Q. Several Gen X ers are here as well, implementing the current programs which include house building, installing water pumps, and providing play based English lessons for the children and teens. The largest project, however, is building sanitation units, which are small outhouse type brick and thatched structures containing a compost toilet and private area to bathe, a novelty for this village before vMAD arrived on the scene earlier this year.

traditional Cambodian house, the roofed
area on the side is for the kitchen
teacher Melissa
We were prepared for massive begging and limbless individuals but happily that isn't what we've encountered. The tragic history of the country is undeniable but the smiling faces don't let it on. Bicycles, motorcycles, rice paddies, water buffaloes, anorexic cows,bicycles, and HUGE hotels for the thousands of Koreans who come here are the most common sightings so far. We're going back to the night market again tonight and hope to see some traditional dancing, and find some toys to take to the village tomorrow. Today we took hacky-sack like plastic gizmos which were a big hit. Mel and I are spending our time doing the hokey pokey, and singing 'wheels on the bus' along with other preschool type activities. The kids are keen learners and eager to practice their limited English skills. Eli and Tom have been busy doing man things with hammers.

That's all for now, back atcha in a week or so.........

Friday, December 10, 2010

Performance, Packing and Parties for the Perretts

G'day All,

This is Tom here, sitting in as your special Guest Blogger for this, our final blog from Australia! We are literally hours away from closing the front door of our lovely Sunshine Coast home here for the last time.  This afternoon we board our flight to Sydney where we will spend a short night before jetting off again early Sunday morning for Bangkok. Starting in Thailand, we expect that our one-month Asian adventure will serve as a nice buffer between our year in OZ and the return to our "other" good life back home in Arcata.

Our eyes are a bit misty as we ponder all the good times, good friends, and fond memories we will soon leave behind.  Leaving this home is so much different from leaving Arcata one year ago- we knew we were coming "back" there in one year (and we do look forward to seeing all our friends there again in one month!).... but now we are saying goodby, well, perhaps forever?......Snif!.....

I don't think any of us anticipated making so many close friends here in such a short time.
Our first six months was a time of getting our new home in order, getting the kids get into gear for their new school, exploring the area and finding our way around. The last six months found us settled into established routines, attending regular events and sheparding the kids off to their friend's homes and their various extracurricular activities. Plus: weekly poker games (for Tom and the boyz), and weekly Mah Jong games (for Steph and the gals), and Friday night potluck dinner with Gary and Julie and friends.

But all of that is about to end.  Our final few weeks here have found us in the performance, packing, and partying mode....

Performance:  Final dance performance and musical shows for Melissa's end of season events.  Grand final singing events for Stephanie's choir group.

Packing: Because it takes a month to clean and pack a house that's been fully lived in for a year!

Parties:  Because we've had many farewell gatherings- Yoga group goodbye potlucks, final blowout poker games, small dinner parties and final lunch dates with friends.

Last week Steph and I hosted a final going-back-to-America party for ourselves here at our Yaroomba manse.... we were expecting maybe
6-8 of our friends would show up, but we were greeted by over two dozen well wishers to see us off.  Hugs, tears, presents and laughs all around...

But the Big Party Bash of the year was hosted by none other than Eli, who was determined to top his 15th birthday party he had here last August, with The Going Away Party to Be Remembered.

Preparations began days in advance, as meticulous "invitation only" guest lists were drawn up, revised, rewritten, and carefully scrutinized. 

Bouncers were recruited ("Dad", plus "Dad's biggest friend", were hired to man the front entrance, to ensure no "party crashers" busted though Security...).

Premises were readied: decks swept, rooms cleared, bedrooms locked and barricaded, liquor hidden.  Strobe lights were strung and a disco ball that survived the 70's was hung in the center of the garage- cleared and scrubbed to serve as a dance floor.

And exacting sound checks were made on the IPod stereo system by two seasoned sound technicians.  It went something like this:





The big party began at 7:30PM.  After completing my bouncing duties at the front door, I retreated upstairs where Stephanie and I proceeded to bite our lips as we tried to ignore the loud sounds of the downstaris mayhem: banging doors, breaking glasses, semi-violent screaming, and huge splashing noises coming from our pool (the next day it was revealed that the party-ers were jumping into the pool from the 2nd floor balcony).  After what seemed like hours, I checked my watch to see if it was almost midnight- the previously agreed-upon end of party time.  Dismayed to learn that it was only 8:15PM, Stephanie and I continued our negotiations with each other relating to whose turn it was for another periodic foray into the downstairs abyss for a new welfare check.  I won't tell you exactly what we saw, but, well,  it wasn't pretty....I will tell you that Stephanie got kissed by one of Eli's 15-year old pals on one of her inspections (come to think of it, that trip took her a bit longer than usual, hmm...).  But I won't tell you more.  Stephanie has a video, but don't ask to see it.  You REALLY don't want to know, do you?!....

So what will we miss about Australia?  For me, it will be the sound of the exotic Aussie birds waking me up in the a.m., riding my bike to the gym though the forest on Wednesdays, walks on the beach with Steph in the late afternoon, having SOOO much more quality time with my wonderful family, low, low stress levels, and of course, poker games with my mates almost every week!

All in all, it has been a tremendous year that has far surpassed all my own wildest expectations.  We are all so very grateful to have had the ability to take this "year off" from our busy lives and I'm sure that the benefits of this experience will unfold in presently unknown was for years to come in the lives of our children.

Steph says: look for her next blog posts coming soon from Asia!

Bye for now!


Friday, November 26, 2010

The thanks we are giving

Happy Thanksgiving Week! The Perrett clan skipped the traditional feed because I couldn't find any cranberries in these parts, and  I for one don't see the point in eating roast turkey if there isn't any tangy sauce to go with it. Instead we marked the day by pausing to reflect on our gratitude for our phenomenal good fortune. Here is a sampling of what we are thankful for:

daughter/sister says: " I'm grateful we are fortunate enough to be able to come to Australia for a year"

dad/husband says: "our healthy family"

mom/wife says: "my family, my family of friends, and that the teenage years don't last forever"

son/brother says: "I'm thankful we live 2 minutes from the beach and I can go surfing whenever I want, and I'm thankful we have been in Australia for a year"

In the last handful of years,we have spent thanksgiving in many places. At home with a crowd or a few, at Chery'ls house to bring joy following tragedy, in Denver with our cousins, in an airport in Kauai, at Abruzzi's restaurant just with Tom's mom, singing and then serving at the Arcata Veteran's hall.  When I was young we had all the family at my Aunt Evelyn's house (the kids always got our own table....we loved that)

Tom's uncle Mike and his wife Vivian from Ojai  have had a love affair with Australia longer than we have, and regularly come to this area. They arrived while I was in the outback, and came over for dinner the day after I got home. Guests also were Tom's cousin Ellen who hails from La Jolla and her friend Rob, a Sydneysider. After dinner we gathered 'round the television and I showed off all my outback photos. My camera has not been far from my hand all year.  I've taken thousands of snaps. I'm in the process of making a hardbound photo book of the entire year, which has been a huge project. Our broadband data usage is metered at our house, so thanks to the Coolum public library free wi-fi I'm able to complete my album! Soon I'll be donating most of our bookshelf to them. Tom and I have plowed through many volumes this year, but the pages the kids are staring at have been overwhelmingly online. Sigh. They do know how to read books however, as Eli recently demonstrated by starting and finishing Harry Potter 7 (again) within a week.

For some time now I have been attempting to spew gratitude whenever and wherever I can. I am brimming with it! It's filling up all my wicker baskets, cootie catchers, rain gutters, pencil cups and ant traps.  Twenty ten has been truly remarkable for our family and will be a cherished memory forever.  We have been so fortunate to reap the rewards of Tom's many years of working 60 hour  plus weeks building his business, and now being able to leave it (sort of) for a year to be run by capable managers. If not for Chris Albright in particular, we couldn't have made this happen. He has been steadfastly minding the ship as we cavort on the other side of the world. And as I have reported, we have done a fair bit of gallivanting around!

Speaking of gallivanting, we have adventures in store when we depart Oz in a few short weeks. We are Asia bound! We've known since we started planning this year we were going to be traveling during this time between continents, mostly  due to Eli's school schedule. He starts the second semester of his sophomore year at Arcata High on Jan 18, and Mel will go back to the last 6 months of  middle school at Pacific Union. How strange will that be, as she is in high school here!  For a month we'll be  in transition,  living neither on Wunnunga Crescent or on 11th street.

We fly away on Dec 11 and our first stop is Bangkok. Tom can't count how many times he's traveled the SFO-BKK route for Tomas business, but the rest of us have not had the pleasure. (OK, I did make a  brief stop on my way to India in 1993, a lifetime ago) We'll meet the folks he works with and see the haunts where he prowls for new jewelry designs, meets with suppliers, networks and problem solves for his ever growing company. After spending a few days being tourists and marveling at the wonders of this city of 10 million plus, we are off to Cambodia on Dec 15.

Following many many hours of pursuing ideas, we are booked to volunteer as a family in a school/orphanage in Siem Reap. Volunteer vacations are the latest craze and I have done extensive research to make sure we will to spending time with a reputable organization, not taking jobs away from locals,  and contributing in a meaningful way. Type 'volunteer Cambodia' and thousands of websites pop up,  promising "exciting, life changing, flexible and worthwhile" experiences. After heading down some avenues which began to look sus, (Australian for suspicious) I ramped up the research again,  talked and read and pondered for several more hours, and we have signed up with an NGO called vMAD.org (Volunteer and Make a Difference for good). While I'm not attached to the experience being described with ALL four of the above adjectives, I do think it will be interesting and certainly different from our previous travels!

How our time will be spent with vMAD is somewhat unknown, but we might be helping in the classrooms, with community building projects, in afterschool care, or who knows what. Eli has had a fabulous computer class this year, and has come away with a boatload of tech savvy, especially in terms software applications. He's hoping to contribute to the IT program, and also make a movie while we're there.  Melissa is a natural with young ones, and will easily contribute to any childcare situation. Tom and I have strong backs, the cumulative wisdom of 106 years of life, and are keen to help or at least not get in the way. Our time there is short so we plan to hit the ground running.

Following our week or so in Cambodia, we'd like to travel overland to a bordering country, either Laos or the southern end of Thailand. We might get as far a Vietnam. Unplanned. Definitely a style of travel to which we are unaccustomed! We're not wingin' it for long, as we have a flight booked  from Bangkok to Bali on New Year's Eve. We have about 10 days on the beautiful island of Bali before we head back to Oz to collect our belongings which will have been stored in Brisbane and then transferred to Sydney. Thank you Quantas Courier service.  Then, off to America. If you're in town, please come to our welcome home party at the Arcata airport on Thursday Jan 13 at 3:45!!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dispatch from the Bush

 I’ve just returned from a two week sojourn to the outback. Traveling over 3000 kilometers in 10 days ……you could say I saw a lot of country! I was volunteering with Outback Links, an organization that matches intrepid souls in placements helping remote families dealing with the realities of living in the back of beyond. The program is a branch of Frontier Services. I traveled with the early education RAFS (Remote Area Family Service) field service coordinator. Flick (week one) and Emma (week 2) are dedicated educators undeterred by the isolation and extensive travel requirements of their job: providing play based enrichment for children up to age 5.
Charleville races

Davida, Flick and yours truly

fancy fascinators
Before heading off to begin the scheduled loop for 7 playgroups around southwest Queensland, I arrived in Charleville (12 hours west of Brisbane by car, but I flew) the day before the Melbourne Cup. Country races have been held in Charleville for 50 years on the same day as the Melbourne Cup, and for the 3300 residents it’s a public holiday and a very big day out. Over a thousand folks turned up to watch each other, five local races, and the big one on TV. After getting some instructions from Davida and Flick, I approached one of the bookmakers to bet on my first horse race. Thinking it was entirely possible I was perhaps the only American in attendance, seems I should bet on the horse called Americain. At exactly 2 pm all two thousand eyes were glued to one of the many televisions around the place and, behold and lo, I picked a winner! Had I wagered more than 10 dollars, this would have been even more exciting. The ‘fashions on the field’ were no doubt a bit less fabulous than in Melbourne, but Charleville’s ladies frocked up with fascinators, hats, plenty of jewelry, and tottered around in the dirt and grass in fancy high heels, many of them looking tremendously uncomfortable.

Also on the agenda for my time in the bush was tagging along while my RAFS compatriots attended an early education conference in the thriving town of Goondiwindi on the border of New South Wales. Although it wasn’t large enough to boast a stoplight, the town did have a large hotel, more than one gas station, Domino's pizza …the population was in the thousands! This was by FAR the largest town I visited. On arrival we were served a camp oven dinner (chili cooked over a campfire) with billy tea, but I was told it wasn’t the real deal, as authentic bush tea is meant to be strong enough to stand up your spoon. The conference lasted a day and a half, with interesting presenters and good information…..I hadn’t been to a professional conference in many a year.

mess o' bees

So we’re off to do the playgroups, with our 4WD vehicle packed up to and including the roof rack with blocks and dress up clothes, paint and glitter, soap bubbles, a train set, a water slide and a wading pool. We’d set up at the town park/hall on the grass, and the mums and tots poured in from the surrounding properties, which may have been up to two hours away. On several occasions I was able to lend suggestions and a listening ear to mum’s who voiced speech and language concerns about their little ones. Three hours later when everyone was thoroughly soaked and inevitably someone was crying, we packed up. The temperature was usually near 100 by now. We grabbed a cold drink and sandwich at the pub/grocery store/gas station/ restaurant/post office/bank….all of these housed in either one or two nearby buildings. Off we roared down the one lane road to the next town. Sometimes we encountered a vehicle or two and sometimes not. Once, for about a kilometer,  there was a dotted white line down the middle of the road: it was there in case the road needed to be used as an emergency landing strip.

river near Thagomindah
Between two and six hours later, we arrived in the next spot, spent the night, and got up the next day to do it all again. In between towns was…….nothing. Well, not nothing: rocks, red dirt, brush, trees, occasional small hills, more red dirt, cattle, sheep, goats, emus, snakes, lizards and goannas, kangaroos, wallaroos. The farther west we drove the more barren the landscape. Bird life was abundant; we saw apostle birds, budgies,butcher birds pelicans, one pair of brolgas and one pair of major mitchell's cockatoos, gallahs, among others. On the last day we saw wedge tailed eagles, which are one of the largest birds of prey: they can carry off lambs!I didn’t see any dingos as they usually don’t come near the road, but we did see a few wild pigs and foxes that were road kill. Happily the three venomous snakes I saw were dead, but I heard stories of very alive deadly snakes that almost everyone has encountered in one way or another.We crossed several streams ,which when flooded (as often happened this year) makes the road inaccessible. The streams/waterholes were all the same color: mocha. Due to all the rain recently, we saw  heaps of wildflowers and much more brush and plant life than is normally present.

wearing my fly veil
one of my companions in the loo
Outback folks were welcoming and friendly, always hospitable and happy to see us. The towns with schools (only primary, older kids were sent to boarding school) had enrollments of between 5 and 20. ‘Town’ is relative term, two of the ‘towns’ we came through had a population of less than 5. There was a pub/hotel/restaurant, and gas pump. One such place we stayed was Naccunda, and our accommodations were decidedly one star… Emma and I each had our own room, which thankfully boasted air-con unit, a 4 by 7 inch mirror, a disassembled smoke alarm, two twin beds with 15 inches between them, and a Gideon bible. The amenities across the cement step featured cute little frogs gripping the helicopter and airplane themed shower curtain, as well as emerging from the sink drain. Non-potable river water ran in the taps; identifiable by the brown tinge. Unfortunately the next morning after we unloaded and set up for playgroup, no one showed up. So we spent the morning flicking off the three inch grasshoppers that landed on us, shooing flies, hoping for a breeze, and applying DEET.
emu track

In Eromanga (pop.40), a town with a petroleum refinery, and the point in Australia that is furthest from the sea, I had an unusual experience. I went for my usual evening walk, enjoying the quiet and admiring the wing span of the kite hawks circling above. Soon there were more, now about 7 or 8 of them. They seemed to be following me……they came a little lower if I stopped walking, which I couldn’t do for long as the flies were fierce. It was evident the birds were keyed into my status as slow moving solitary mammal. If there was any chance I was going to die soon, they were ready to make a meal of me.

Chris and the blue tongue
Only four more weeks in Oz!!! We plan to enjoy every minute of it, swimming in the pool, catching waves, and glorying in the warm but not too hot time of year. While I was away, the fam managed just dandy of course....Chris from Tomas was over, and he and Tom encountered a blue tongue lizard  in the foyer.... Eli finishes up school in two weeks with a trip to dreamworld theme park with his school mates, and Melissa's dance concert is the following day. We're going to start packing any minute now.......