For years, the running joke in our house was that I would never go to Australia. My daughter became quite interested in Australia after the continent/country was a project in her kindergarten class. That was in 2009. She asked if we could go to Australia, see the koalas and kangaroos, and I showed her a map, explained that Australia involved over 20 hours of flying, including about a 15-hour flight across all of the Pacific Ocean, and that it was just simply too far and too expensive.
Last night, I returned from 10 days in Australia. Twenty-four hours of nonstop travel; 19 of those hours in the sky. No one is more surprised by this than me.
I was approached to participate in a press trip, and the itinerary was too intriguing to say no. In fact, despite the long haul, I was quite excited. My trip was coordinated and all expenses, including air, hotels, activities, and meals were covered by Voyages Indigenous Tourism Travel and Visit Victoria (and if I left anyone out, I do apologize, but those were the biggies). I flew Qantas (which quickly became one of my favorite airlines ever) for most of the trip, with a side hop on Virgin Australia when I flew from Ayers Rock to Alice Springs. I even spent a night in a tiny town called Dunkeld, about a three-hour’s drive west of Melbourne, population 480, which has this kick-ass hotel simply called The Royal Mail Hotel. This posh hotel is across from a tiny bookstore that’s only open on Saturdays and Sundays called Roz Greenwood’s Used and Rare Books. I was there on a Friday, pressing my nose against the glass wishing I had another 24 hours in town. Parked in front of the Royal Mail Hotel was a turquoise-colored, 1950s-style car featuring an airbrushed image of Elvis during his younger years. The car is owned by a local, making me wish that I had been given more time in Dunkeld.
There’s no way to sum up 10 days on another continent in one blog post, and my sense of time, not to mention what season we’re currently in, is too screwed up to offer you anything compelling or coherent. Australia will emerge gradually and sporadically on this blog. It’s a big country with a big landscape, and there’s just too much to process right now. What I can tell you is that I constantly mispronounced Melbourne, as many Americans do. It’s “Mel-burn,” not “Mel-born,” so I’ll work on that. I can also tell you I drank a flat white almost every morning—“flat white” being Aussie for latte—and that the Royal Mail Hotel whipped up one of the best flat whites in the world.
I can also tell you that I’m not a carnivorous or adventurous eater but I ate the following during my 10 days in Australia: green ants sprinkled on several dishes, crocodile, emu, wallaby, kangaroo, camel, eel, barramundi and a gazillion other types of fish with names I can’t recall. I’m jetlagged and know I’m forgetting a few critters, but I know I didn’t eat chicken or beef (I think some bacon might have been involved somewhere along the line). I ate a roadhouse camel burger about six hours after a riding a camel as the sun rose, the first—and, so far only—time I’ve ridden and eaten the same animal in the same day. I wasn’t fond of the camel burger though I’m confident I didn’t have the best cut of camel, probably some mix of body parts with most (hopefully) originating from the rump. No offense to the roadhouse cafe in Glen Helen that served me the camel burger, though the countless flies and wasps hovering over our food were annoying since we were eating indoors and I’m allergic to wasp stings.
It’s nearly summer in Australia right now. The constellations there are different because the seasons are different, some planets more clearly visible than others. Someone set up a large telescope in the desert while we were there and I got to see Saturn for the first time. I looked at this faint star in the desert sky, then peered through the lens and saw a white dot with a very distinct white ring, as if someone had placed a kid’s sticker on the other end of the telescope. I glanced back and forth between the two, my naked eye on the speck of light above, and the image coming through the telescope, trying to gauge if what I was seeing was real. It was a perfect night in the desert. Saturn wanted to be seen, surrounded by many stars, moonlight touching almost everything.
Back in the city, the desert feeling far, far away, Christmas decorations were already up, a tradition that always follows the Melbourne Cup, which this year, occurred on November 6, a holiday in Melbourne that involves high fashion and more than the usual amount of drinking. We were on a flight from Alice Springs to Melbourne when the pilot announced the winner: Rekindling. A good name. The name of one who perseveres. A word I need to hold on to now that it’s almost winter here.
Noshing on that kinda-tough camel burger the day before the Melbourne Cup, I had been dressed for 100-degree heat, sweating from unusual places, begging for a cool breeze to find me. I received texts from home about the drop in temperature, even my daughter complained about the cold, and I tried to remember what cold felt like. I flew home last night, crossing half the globe by air. Somewhere over Fiji, I watched The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, an Australian comedy-drama that takes places in the Northern Territories, and the movie made me love Australia even more, all that heat on screen in that cold, cramped plane. I landed, gathered my overstuffed suitcase, walked out into the dark New York night, and immediately questioned my choices. Daylight Savings occurred while I was away, which means it’s now nighttime at 4 p.m. I went from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere, from late spring to late fall, from light to dark, all in a day. My patio tomato plants are very brown and very dead, some tomatoes ossified on the vine by below-freezing nights. Such a sight to come home to was jarring.
While in the Northern Territories and Australia’s southern coast, I tried to soak up the region’s abundant sunshine like a camel (yes, pun intended!), but I knew re-entry would be hard. Today is re-entry. And it’s hard. I already feel that seasonal affective disorder weight settling in, and I’ve been on the ground less than 24 hours. Outside my living room window today, it’s gray, rainy, and barely 40 degrees, as if the sun decided “I prefer Australia, too. See you in April.” I had to dig out a pair of socks for the first time in almost two weeks, and I’ll likely have to dig out the happy lamp tomorrow.
Please don’t mistake today’s mopey mood for entitlement; I’m just missing sunshine and a functional circadian rhythm. I am home, with my kid, happily doing mom stuff, finally writing again because these press trips actually involve very little writing. Instead, it’s hauling your laptop from location to location, activity to activity, with the hope that you might have a spare 15 minutes to write anything down. It’s all exhilarating and tiring, as most cool things are. Today is simply a hangover after nearly three solid weeks of travel involving two trans-Pacific flights (more on Macau soon). I began this Monday by waking up at 1 a.m. because I was so hungry, I microwaved a few chicken nuggets. I’ll likely spend the day in my baggy flamingo pants writing and drinking tea. I sipped home-brewed coffee that admittedly tasted disappointing after days of being spoiled by the Melbourne flat white scene. Hiking four or five miles along the Southern Ocean last week already feels like it happened to someone else, which is why we take selfies and drain our smartphone batteries snapping photos. We need reminders that we are many people doing many different things all at once. Mother and traveler. Wife and writer. Tourist and homebody. Australia surprised me. I want to go back, despite that ridiculously long flight. The continent I told my daughter was too far to visit got under my skin. I like that the red dirt from the Northern Territories stained my sneakers. I spin the globe that sits on my kid’s bedroom desk, the classic one found in most elementary school classrooms with countries the color of Easter eggs. Australia is flamingo-pink on this globe, impossible to miss, and I think “When?”