Archive | November, 2012

The Night Of Couchsurfing That Turned Into Two Weeks

14 Nov

“Just to let you know, I collect body parts,” said Kimmii, shortly after greeting us.

My boyfriend and I just finished a long weekend of camping up at the Dorrigo National Park and hadn’t had a real shower in days. We swam in rivers, took sponge baths and wore hats but something had to give. When we drove down the windy mountain road back to Coffs Harbour we had two choices: check into an out-of-budget caravan park and have a shower or send out a last-minute couchsurfing request and hope that someone would invite us in.

I sent out two couchsurfing requests explaining that all we really needed was a shower and that we had a van to sleep in. After waiting for half an hour, our impatience got the best of us and we decided to have an ice-cold shower in the public bathrooms of the local surf club. As we got back into the van, our teeth chattering and our hair soaked, I had a message. Two empty nesters with a couple of spare rooms offered to let us stay and insisted that we sleep inside.

When we pulled up to the house Kimmii came to greet us at the front door while Paulie prepared the pizza dough for our dinner inside. Kimmi was in her mid-40s, a half-Aboriginal bipolar woman whose manic episodes led her to $3,000 shopping sprees on ModCloth for her 20-something daughter. She was short and overweight, outspoken, jovial and completely comfortable in her own skin. Paulie was a balding ex-surfer whose music and book collection filled me with envy. He was a talented cook but rarely ate his own creations, preferring a simple meat and potatoes meal instead.

Within minutes the wine was flowing and we were already telling deeply personal stories and laughing our asses off. Kimmii had this incredible story-telling ability and a wit about her that left Matt and I in stitches (even when she was only explaining what she did for a living!). We told her she should do stand-up and Paulie shouted from the kitchen, “Oh no, don’t encourage her!”

As we dug into the homemade pizzas Kimmii told us we were her first couchsurfers and that she signed up because her daughter would be backpacking across South America in a few months and she wanted to give back in the hopes that someone would do the same for her. She told us that after their four children had moved out they’d had several guests come and go. Some stayed for a few weeks and others for up to 9 months. When Kimmii invited us to stay as long as we wanted I thought it was such a tempting and generous offer but never expected that we’d actually take her up on it.

In a warm, wine-induced haze we said goodnight and crawled into our respective beds. Matt and I wanted to pinch ourselves when we felt the thread-count of the sheets and prefect firmness of the mattress.

A woman after my own heart!

“I really like them,” said a half-asleep Matt.

“Me too. I love it here,” I said in a daze.

“Someone stayed here for nine months!” said Matt.

“I know, but we’re not going to take advantage of their generosity. We’ll keep looking for jobs in the morning.”

And we did, but the day turned into two and then three. Then Kimmii left for a business trip and encouraged us to stay with Paulie while she was gone. He had a serious lung condition that often left him gasping for air and she felt more comfortable knowing someone was there with him. We happily stayed, mowing the lawn, doing the dishes and scrubbing the tubs to contribute.

Paulie made us amazing food every night: Moroccan, Mexican, Greek, and Lebanese. Well-fed and well-rested, we continued the job search with new enthusiasm. I attended an RSA (responsible service of alcohol) certification course and Matt contacted all his old rigging buddies for information on current projects.

At night, Kimmii and Matt talked politics while Paulie and I talked music and watched concert DVDs. I copied all his CDs to my hard drive and he’d pull out biographies of my favorite bands and tell me obscure facts about the members. We became a family and we got used to our routine.

When Matt received a high-paying rigging job offer, the news was bittersweet. We packed up our van the last night and Paulie made pizza for us to take on the road. Kimmii and I watched a documentary about Obama and Mitt Romney before she went to bed and Paulie and I talked about Jimmy Page and Jim Morrison one last time. We hugged goodbye, promised to stay in touch and when we locked up the door behind us in the middle of the night, Matt and I turned to each other and said, “I’m really going to miss them,” almost in unison.

Not every couchsurfing experience is like this but now my Australian family feels larger. We still keep in touch and if we ever make it back to NSW, we know where we’ll stay.

Kimmii also loved collecting sea shells.                                                                                                    I left this one in the guest room so they’d have something to remember us by.

Watch the Australian Total Solar Eclipse Online

13 Nov

In less than 8 hours there will be a total solar eclipse of the sun in Cairns (pronounced cans) in tropical northern Queensland. The rare event, where the moon temporarily comes into perfect alignment with the sun and blocks it from view, won’t happen again in Australia until 2028. Some Australian cities outside Cairns will still see the eclipse but will lose total blockage. Here, in Brisbane, the moon will cover just over 80% of the sun at one time.

The last total eclipse was in 2010 and the next total eclipse won’t occur until 2015. If you’re like me and haven’t properly prepared for this cosmic rarity (or if you happen to be anywhere else in the world besides Queensland) you can stream a live viewing of the eclipse here. Even if you are in Queensland, it’s advised not to look directly into the sun because the irreversible retina damage leads to blindness and watching the eclipse online might be your best option if you haven’t done your research.

Since I waited too long to buy the protective welding glasses that allow you to witness the total eclipse firsthand, I’ll be watching the live stream as well. Also, I don’t really think the pinhole-viewing option, where you have your back to the sun and watch a homemade projection on a piece of cardboard or paper, will really compare. Who knows maybe I’ll make it to Spitzbergen in 2015, Indonesia in 2016, America in 2017 or Chile/Argentina in 2009! Sounds like the perfect addition to my bucket list (and another excuse to travel)!

Halloween Came And Went in Oz

1 Nov

Halloween 2011 – Me as a tourist, Jessica as a porcelain doll, Karen as a ghoulish demon and Lluvia as Frida Kahlo.

I look forward to Halloween all year round and by August I usually have a few ideas about which costume I’ll wear. But this year, half-way across the world from my Californian home, Halloween came and went. I sat on the couch in Brisbane having a few beers with my boyfriend and his friends. We watched TV, but nothing Halloween-related: no horror films, slasher flicks or classics to get us in the mood. Not one trick-or-treater rang the door bell, though I’m sure that even if there were trick-or-treaters they would have passed this house – there weren’t any decorations, all the front lights were off and the only candy on the premises was my chocolate bar in the van.

The changing leaves didn’t fall to the ground and decorate streets because it’s springtime here. Carved pumpkins weren’t on front porches because Australians eat pumpkins all year round – it isn’t an autumnal thing like it is in the States. The few Halloween parties you hear about are in backpacker areas or at bars and most Australians I talk to say locals have only been dressing up for the last five years or so. And if you talk to older Australians they’ll tell you how annoyed they are that this ‘American’ holiday has made its way to their country. When they head to the grocery store and see Halloween decorations for sale they scoff at the idea and consider Halloween another example of America’s consumer culture.

My best friend Kelsey’s pumpkins this year.

From the outside looking in, I think the fact that Americans celebrate Halloween shows our enthusiasm for life, our creative drive and our love of, and unique grasp of, entertainment. So what if we spend a few extra dollars on synthetic cob webs and plastic spiders?  So what if our neighbor wants to spend an entire day converting his front lawn into a haunted house? I don’t see anything wrong with getting excited about a holiday and Halloween is one of the few that people of all religious backgrounds can enjoy. It brings people together in a way that Christmas can’t. It lets you become another person for the night: a shy girl can become a vixen, a nerdy dude can show his sense of humor and people can express their political views through thought-provoking costumes. Everyone gets to show their artistic side and it’s good clean fun (except for when you make out with batman and can’t figure out his real identity the next day).

My best friend Kat dressed as disappointed olympian McKayla Maroney.

I missed Halloween this year. I missed my family and friends. I watched as they posted photos to Facebook and Instagram and for the first time since I came back to Australia two months ago, I felt homesick. And though it doesn’t happen often, especially whilst traveling, I was proud to be American. I am proud to be American.

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