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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.

Skinny Dipping is Good for the Soul

15 Oct

Our two-week house sitting stint in Coffs Harbour was up and we were on the road. We counted on having berry picking work by now but all the farms we called said it would be another few weeks. The bills were piling up and our spirits were sinking so I couldn’t wait to put our computers away for a few days and disconnect.

We told a family friend that we were heading to the Dorrigo National Park for the weekend and she, looking at my boyfriend’s long hair and bushy unkempt beard, told us about a free camping/commune spot near the national park entrance where we’d find lots of other hippies. She joked that Matt would fit right in the way he looked but that they might try to convert me. I almost showed her the ‘let it be’ and peace/heart sign tattoos I have on either wrist but smiled along instead.

After stopping at the Raleigh Winery for a free tasting and having an amazing cup of tea in the artsy and somewhat retro town of Bellingen, we drove inland on the windy roads past dairy and macadamia farms, looking for this communal haven. The main road forked and a dirt track disappeared into the national park. That had to be it.

At the bottom of the hill a middle-aged man wearing loose hippie pants stood in the road in front of his rusting shack, driving a remote control car with his toddler son (who was only wearing a shirt and who, with his doe-eyes and long curly hair, I assumed was a girl until I saw his little manhood). We rolled down the window and asked what was up the road.

“The meaning of life,” he replied with a smirk, and we chatted for a bit and told him our story. He kindly offered to let us park in front of his home and use his shower and washer machine. He introduced himself as Alek and when I told him mine was Alex he said, “far out…,” in a drawn-out, contemplative way.

We hadn’t found our community but we didn’t need to anymore.

Alek told us about a watering hole and my boyfriend’s eyes lit up. We said our goodbyes, parked near the water and set out to find it. We trekked along the river bank on uneven slippery rocks and through thick, spider-web-laden bush. My boyfriend trekked along like it was nothing while my heart pounded as I tried to keep up with him, my eyes glued to the ground. I asked him to slow down and told him he was stressing me out. I wanted to take in the experience, not panic about keeping up. He slowed down (for him) but again I kept my eyes on my feet, nervous every time a rock wobbled under me as we crossed the river. I felt completely out of my element, like my suburban Orange-County roots were showing, like my love of nature was just an affectation I’d used to impress my farm-raised Australian boyfriend.

But carried on until we hit a dead-end and needed to cross the waist-deep water. I didn’t want to get my running shoes wet and was happy to turn around since it was already getting late, but Matt urged me to jump into his arms so he could carry me across the water. I thought he was kidding until he jumped in and held out his arms. I was a little embarrassed that he’d gone to such lengths but made jokes about him being a super hero carrying me to safety. The whole situation was pretty ridiculous and just minutes later we reached a deeper part of the river crossing where the stones were unreliable and I had no choice but to walk through the water, drenching my socks and joggers though I’d tried my best to avoid it.

When we finally found our watering hole we gaily stripped down to ours joggers and jumped in. We heard animals moving around in the bushes and Matt dove in the water and pretended to be eaten by a crocodile. We laughed about what we’d do if hikers found us there, prancing around a national park with only our shoes on, and joked about how this would make this perfect postcard.

How we’d needed this!

I got out early while Matt swam and took in our picturesque surroundings, breathing in the stillness. The sun started setting so we hurriedly dressed because the prospect of trekking back along the unpredictable river banks in the dark set fire to our feet. Luckily the sky darkened just as we made it back to the road, the van barely in sight. We took our soppy shoes and socks off and settled in for the night. The frogs and crickets sang in the background, the occasional firefly zipped past and all the stresses of our reality: the dwindling funds, the lack of work prospects, the mounting bills, the urge to bite each others’ heads off – slipped away.

Mother Earth has such a profoundly soothing effect on my psyche that I sometimes wonder why I even bother with this modern age at all. But then, everything is better in contrast. You can’t have the yin without the yang.

Entering Our Van in a Kombi Fest

13 Oct

One morning a few months back Matt slid open the van door to grab some juice out of the fridge just as a middle-aged man was walking by. He saw our set-up and excitedly chatted our ears off about all things Volkswagen and reminisced about his days of living in a van. Matt proceeded to give him a tour as I lay in bed trying to hide that fact that I was only wearing a skimpy tee and some panties. He oo’ed and awed over our queen mattress, the solar panel on the roof and our pull out fridge.

“Have you ever entered in a Kombi fest?,” the man asked and then told us about the annual festivals in NSW where Volkswagen Kombi or Transporter owners get together to do a ‘van’ show and compete for titles like “Best Presented” and “Furthest Traveled.” He was convinced that if we entered we’d win something and told us it was a great place to get ideas and meet other van owners. Since the festivals weren’t coming up for another few months we put it in the back of our minds and it wasn’t until a few weeks ago when we were driving down New South Wales’ coast that we remembered to look it up.

We happened to be housesitting in Coffs Harbour, just a few hours north of the annual Old Bar Kombi Fest, which tries to break the record of getting the most Volkswagen vans in one spot, and though we really shouldn’t have, for practical money-related reasons, we made the drive down.

We registered at the very last-minute, drove onto the giant field that early Sunday morning and parked in our assigned spot. Disappointed with how plain our van looked next to the retro brightly colored ones, we knew ours had its beauty on the inside. Admittedly, we weren’t prepared at all – halfway through our drive down we decided to give the van a quick wash and the morning of the event we scrambled to organize all our things so the van looked somewhat presentable. I was so sad that Matt left our ‘love child’, Twiggy, a Bonzi tree that we kept on the dash, in Mackay at his parents’ house. I knew he would have garnered some attention.

We left the van doors open and strolled through the lines of Kombis and Transporters, noting how ours could improve but generally feeling very proud of how functional ours was. People had trailers with beds, pop-tops tents in the roof, tents that attached to the outside and some had sleeping pads in the back, but no one had a queen mattress and they certainly weren’t living in their vans full-time.

When we’d had our fill we walked through the markets, had a beer and some festival food, and listened to the live music. Later that day when they announced the winners we accepted that the van didn’t win because we knew we’d be better prepared next year. And next year, you better believe Twiggy will be on the dash where he belongs.

Waste Not! Foodies On a Budget

27 Sep

We only have one fork.

Cooking without a kitchen or my usual gadgets has made me a more inventive and skilled cook. My recipes are simpler, my dishes are few and I do just about everything by hand. Living out of the van has taught me to use my resources and to see every bit of food as having the potential for a gourmet meal. My boyfriend and I constantly surprise ourselves when we taste the dishes we’ve concocted and it’s inspired us to waste as little as possible and to stretch that dollar as far as we can.

We can still scratch our foodie itch while on the road and a budget – all it takes is a little creativity. We’ve always got a few non-perishables on hand, such as refried beans, canned veggies, rice, pasta and noodles, but we’ve also got the important stuff, like peanut butter, balsamic vinegar, truffle oil, olive oil, honey, Himalayan sea salt, and my homemade exotic spice kit. (We may be living out of a van but that’s no reason to leave my herbs de Provence at home!)

We also try to limit our trips to the grocery store, only buying fresh food once we’ve used up what we already have. However, sometimes we’re in remote areas and don’t have a choice. That’s when the real creativity blooms! Last week, for instance, we camped in Corindi Beach, NSW and the nearest grocery store was 30 minutes away. There was, however, a tiny corner store within walking distance but the half empty shelves, inflated prices and lack of gluten-free items forced us to see how long we could go before stocking up again. I saw it as a challenge.

Challenge 1:

We had some strawberries that had frozen and unfrozen and were no longer appetizing since they were a mushy mess. We also had some pork chops that needed to be cooked that night. We were coming up with side dish ideas when the light bulb went off and I suggested we mash the strawberries, add some honey and sage, and use it as a glaze for the pork chops.

“That could be alright,” said the boyfriend with a raised eyebrow, and I proceeded to cut off the leafy strawberry tops and mash the flesh with the glass bottom of my truffle oil bottle. I handed him the concoction for grilling and then chopped up some broccoli and spring onion (which was also approaching its expiry date) and tossed it in some truffle oil before giving it a quick saute.

The results were amazing and we mmm’d and smiled the whole meal through. We couldn’t believe how well we eat considering our circumstances. (I wish I had photos to share but it was one of those impromptu dinners made with a glass of wine in hand and some music in the background and, I guess I just wasn’t thinking about it. Sorry, readers!)

Challenge 2:

While looking through our “pantry” I found brown bananas that needed to be eaten two days earlier. Banana bread was out of the question so I made a toastie using our gluten-free bread, extra-chunky peanut butter, the sliced extra-ripe bananas, some honey and a little Himalayan sea salt. The ooey-gooey crunchiness of it all was enough to make me look forward to the next culinary challenge and that’s when I found the blue-brie cheese that expired in two days…

Challenge 3:

With the brie in hand I took stock of our fridge and some items stood out to me: a few slices of bacon, the last of the chicken lunch meat, some lettuce, one gluten-free wrap, a tomato, a very ripe avocado and heaps of condiments. This was a no-brainer: I’d make a chicken-cordon-bleu-style quesadilla! I smeared the wrap with our roasted raspberry chipotle sauce, covered one side with slices of the blue-brie, then layered the chicken and cooked bacon and threw it on one of the public barbies. I let it brown on each side then opened it up and added some chopped lettuce, tomato and avocado.

I surprised my boyfriend with half when he was elbows-deep in some IT work and he looked at me in wonderment, not knowing how I could look at the same half-empty fridge as he, and come up with this concoction. But then, he surprises me too sometimes…

Challenge 4:

Our fridge was empty. We had no meat, no eggs, no milk, no fresh veggies except for two small potatoes and half an onion. We were craving fish n’ chips and considered blowing our budget for the day and ordering some from the corner store. But then my boyfriend spotted the ‘prawn-man’ (think ice-cream man but with seafood, kangaroo, goat and duck meat instead of desserts).

My carnivorous boyfriend chatted up the prawn man and bought a couple of flake filets for the price of one mediocre fish n’ chips meal. He pan-fried some potatoes and threw in the filets, which he marinated in onion, lemon juice and herbs de Provence. It had  a beautiful flavor-complexity and was much healthier than the fried and battered stuff we could have gotten down the street. Halfway through the meal I asked what kind of fish flake was. He looked at me like I was a dumb blonde and said, “Shark, honey. Shark.”

I thought shark would be tougher for some reason but this was light and soft (which must be why Aussies call it flake). I ate the rest of my meal, with sadistic pleasure, happy there was one less shark in the water below.

 I daresay we eat better on the road than at home, but at the very least we enjoy it more because of the strategizing that goes into each meal. When I think of all the times in the past that I threw out the perfectly good leafy tops of a celery bunch or those broccoli stems, or when I let veggies go bad because I bought too much of them, I cringe because I’ve trained myself to view food differently. Now, I’d make a soup, a giant salad or I wouldn’t have bought more than I needed in the first place.

Once you challenge yourself not to waste any food, eating your meals has an added sense of satisfaction to it. Now I’m passing the challenge over to you – whether you’re backpacking, living in a home, on a boat, in a flat or in a van – let’s see how little you can waste!

What are some of your favorite cheap meals that pass the foodie test? Do you have any tricks for minimizing waste?

Australian Wildlife Up Close

21 Sep

The week before I flew back to the states in June, my boyfriend and I had one last road trip from Mackay to Cape Tribulation where the Daintree, the world’s oldest rainforest, and the Great Barrier Reef meet. We stopped at quirky tourist attractions along the way: ordering mango shakes at the Big Mango, stopping for free cheese and yogurt tastings at the Mungalli Creek Biodynamic Dairy, strolling along the Mamu Rainforest canopy walkway and running as fast as we could to see the train as it passed through the Barron Gorge in the Kuranda rainforest village.

My favorite detour, however, was the Billabong Wildlife Sanctuary in Townsville. I was leaving Australia and hadn’t seen a koala yet so I begged my boyfriend to pull over when we saw the giant billboard indicating that the sanctuary was only a few kilometers away. He wasn’t interested in going because growing up in Australia provided him with countless run-ins with kangaroos, crocodiles, koalas, dingoes, cassowaries and other exotic birds, so while he had a ‘lay down’ in the van, I ventured into the park, giddy as a schoolgirl, with my camera in tow and some change to buy animal feed.

Once inside I rushed to catch the last few minutes of the croc show and was shocked to find kangaroos wandering everywhere! Not only were there mamas, papas and joeys all around me, but they were incredibly social and persistent. I would stop to feed one kangaroo and then four would surround me, stand on their back legs and shove their way through.

At one point I had three roos eating out of my hand and my heart completely dropped. Time stood still. I’d been in Australia for three months and admired these animals from afar and just as I was about to leave the country I was face to face with them, locked in a cathartic farewell.

I meditated on the experience. I read all the educational signs, I watched the croc, bird and snake shows. I stood in the background as families got their pictures taken with koalas, living vicariously through them. I took videos of my conversations with birds and practically laid on the ground to film a joey making his way out of his mama’s pouch.

On principle I don’t really like going to zoos. It depresses me to see caged wild animals and the thousands of tourists that keep their captivity in demand. But the Billabong Wildlife Sanctuary is not a zoo. It comprises 25 acres of bushland, is a certified advanced ecotourism destination and is not overrun by tourists. In the center of the park is a lake, which the birds love to fly over, and the animals, with the exception of the wallabies, kangaroos and ducks who roam free, are kept in spacious, fairly open habitats.

The wildlife sanctuary feels like just that – a sanctuary, and you can easily get lost in the experience of connecting with these animals while spending the day learning about them. If you want to experience Australian wildlife up close, I suggest skipping the overpriced and limiting zoos and spending the day at a sanctuary instead.

For more information on the Billabong Wildlife Sanctuary in Townsville, visit their website here.

Aussie Speak 101

17 Sep

Yes, we speak the same language but as an American living in Australia I find myself asking for linguistic clarification all the time.

“Can I pass the, what?…What did you just call him?…”

Aussie English is much closer to British English than American English is, but like us they’ve put their own spin on things, often truncating words by adding an -o or -ies at the end.

Here are some of the words or phrases I commonly hear:

Aussie – American

How ya going? – How are you doing?, How are you?

good on ya – well done, good for you

have a yawn – talk

she’ll be right – it’ll be okay

that’s alright – response to thank you

heaps – a lot, a bunch

mate – friend

reckon – think, agreement

piss – beer

get pissed – get drunk

have the shits- get upset, get pissed

too easy – that was simple

ratbag – trouble maker

root – fuck

rubbish – trash, bullshit, not very good

partner – boyfriend/girlfriend, fiance, spouse, same-sex lover

legs eleven – long, sexy legs that go all the way up to heaven

arvo – afternoon

whinge – complain

duner – comforter, blanket

i’m shouting  –  i’m buying, my treat, it’s on me

skull – chug (a drink)

boot – trunk

bonnet – hood

rego – register (car, etc.)

stuffed – messed up, full, fucked up

sunnies – sunglasses

uni – university

DNM – deep and meaninful (conversation)

tea – supper

lift – elevator

chemist – pharmacy

bottle shop – liquor store

serviette – napkin

takeaway – take out, leftovers

lolies – candy, sweets

gone 0ff (food) – spoiled

Maccas – McDonald’s

feed meal

esky cooler

flake shark meat

avos – avocado

holiday vacation

ambo – ambulence

cozzie – swimsuit

bikki – biscuit

brekkie – breakfast

billy – bong toke

bloke – guy, man’s man

Brizzie – Brisbane

chook – chicken

jumper – sweater

doodle – penis

doco – documentary, document

sheila – woman (derogatory)

The postcard I sent my mom during my first trip to Australia. Her name is Sheila.

footy – league rugby

old lady – mom

old man – dad

oldies – parents

pokies – poker machines, gambling slot machines

missus – wife, girlfriend

grouse – good, cool, awesome

joey – baby kangaroo

chubby – boner

journo – journalist

knock – criticize

mozzie – mosquito

no dramas – no worries

op shop – thrift store

petrol – gas

servo – gas (petrol) station

carton – case of beer

spunk – stud, babe

stickybeak – nosy person

tinny – small aluminum boat

ute –pickup truck

knackered – tired

grog- alcoholic drink

tomato sauce- ketchup

poof – gay man

nic- condition

Water and Bathing On the Road

17 Sep

 

No matter what kind of hygienic ritual we’ve become accustomed to most of us can forego hot showers, proper toilets, sinks and washer machines for a week or so when we’re “roughing” it outdoors or backpacking on a budget. But when it becomes a way of life, as it has for my boyfriend and I, you start looking at things a little differently.

When you’re camping, it’s easy to take cold showers for a week and let your leg hair grow out longer than usual because you know it’s only temporary and you’ve got that hot shower waiting for you back home. But when the road is your home, any shower or clean bathroom you come across feels like a trip to the spa and running water is viewed as an invaluable resource for washing dishes and clothes, brushing your teeth, bathing, and even drinking – if you’re so daring.

I come from a world of designer water bottles and giant wholesale markets where people can buy their fancy water in bulk. Now, I drink from whichever faucet is available as long as it passes the clarity and taste test. (And I’m basically living off tea because once the water boils I no longer worry about it.) Blame it on the three months I spent backpacking Asia or my trips to Mexico but now I look at water differently. If I’m in a first world country and there’s no sign that tells me not to drink it, it’s fair game.

The same goes for bathing water. If we stumble across a lake or find an outdoor shower by the beach and haven’t had a proper shower in days, we thank the heavens and muster up the courage to face the cold water. It’s not so bad in the summer months but in the winter it’s a whole different animal. That’s when we heat some water in a pot over our portable stove, squeeze in our minty shower gel and use a tea cloth to give ourselves a sponge bath. If it’s cold outside or if we’ve got neighbors, we’ll bring the pot inside the van, shut all the doors, lay a towel down and be careful to drip as little water as possible as we take turns wiping each other down. We’ll even drape a blanket over the two front seats to block the windows and give us some semblance of privacy.

Other times, like mostly recently when we camped by the Clarence River in Grafton, NSW (which you can read about here), we’ll own the fact that we’re dirty hippies in need of a scrub. One early morning, after my leg hairs had gone particularly feral, I set up our bathing station on the public picnic table under the gazebo we’d camped next to and shaved my legs. When I was mid-shin boaters towing water skiers drove past and I shamelessly waved right back with a giant smile on my face.

Once finished, I put on a new pot to wash our clothes and hung the freshly laundered garments on the rack on the front of the car and on our camping chairs. Then Matt proceeded to give the van a scrub down and we both felt accomplished and grateful to have found “free” running water. It was certainly a step up from our campsite on the beach where the only water came from the ocean.

Later that day, Matt and I decided three days of salty beach hair was enough and we jumped off the jetty and into the cold, murky river water to wash our hair. When I was alone in the water I stayed as close to the surface as possible because I was terrified a croc would swim up at any moment and take me down with him. I could hardly see a foot in front of me and my mind kept playing scenes from really bad horror films where unsuspecting lovers were suddenly attacked by piranhas, sharks or some other unknown mythical creature. But then I’d see children fly past us in their inner tubes, towed behind the family boat and I’d relax and be thankful I was finally washing my hair.

When you’re on the road for a year and every penny counts, you find yourself becoming a bit of a schemer. You scope out locations based on proximity to free public amenities over beauty and you’re always thinking about your survival or how to stretch that dollar. While sometimes I wish we didn’t have to resort to drinking water from a dodgy faucet (we’re working on installing a water filtration/shower system so don’t worry too much!) living this simple life makes me appreciate the little things more and that makes every cold shower worth it.

In a Van, Down by the River

14 Sep

When I went home for a Californian summer before moving to Australia I tried to explain the concept of living out of a van with my boyfriend to my friends and family. Most people looked at me with horror and asked, “But, how do you shower?!” or “What if you have to go to the bathroom?!”

Others quoted Chris Farley’s famous Saturday Night Live skit where he plays Matt Foley, the 35-year-old motivational speaker who tries to scare kids straight by telling them they could end up like him, “living in a van, down by the river.” I had to laugh to myself when within days of arriving in Australia, that was my exact living situation.

After a day in Brisbane, we started the trip in Minnie Water, NSW, where we discovered a gorgeous beach with clear water, surrounding headlands and not a person in site. We tanned naked and felt as though we’d washed ashore to our own private island. It was pure bliss. Fortunately, time was on our side because after we climbed the wooden steps to the top of the beach access for lunch, car after car drove up and our “private” beach wasn’t so private anymore.

The next morning we had a medical emergency and left our perfect camp spot to drive an hour to the nearest town and find a doctor. We ended up in a quaint little place called Grafton and after the emergency was sorted we decided to make use of our unexpected gas consumption and explore our new surroundings.

Once  it was dark we searched for a place to camp and found a park right on the banks of the Clarence River. We parked next to the public gazebo and made dinner in the picnic area with our portable gas stove. We had free power, free running water, a kitchen, and bathrooms within walking distance, so the fact that overnight camping wasn’t allowed wasn’t much of a deterrent. 

The next morning as we watched the sunrise over the river from the open “boot”, we knew we couldn’t leave. It was the local watering hole and a town favorite picnic spot. Over the course of the next three days locals parked all around us and launched their boats or set up their lawn chairs for lunch and beers while the kids splashed around in the water. Every few hours we had new guests join us under the gazebo for tea, breakfast or lunch. When we got to know some of them we’d tell them how we’d been camping there. They’d reply with, “Is that right? Good on ya!” and we’d tell them how we’d been taking our showers in the river.

On the second night, Matt and I fell asleep early since we’d been waking up for sunrise nearly every morning. We had the trunk of the car wide open, facing the river and just as I was dozing off a security guard woke me up to let me know if we didn’t leave now they were going to lock the gates and we wouldn’t be able to get out until they opened at 5a.m. In my haze I told him that was okay, we’re sleeping here and he just nodded and left.

This is what I love about Australia. The rural small towns, the slow pace, the natural beauty, the wildlife and the lack of crowds. Everyone seems to understand what we’re doing here. They’ve either done it before or wish they could. Most want to hear what we’ve done and where we’re going and they give us inside tips about the best beaches or places to find jobs, but a few look at us like we’re the dregs of society. I feel sorry for those people. I wonder if they’ve ever made love on a beach in broad daylight or if they’ve watched the sun rise over the ocean, with sand between their toes. I wonder if they really appreciate their daily hot showers, washer machines and microwaves or if it’s all become background.

This lifestyle isn’t for everyone and at times I’m shocked that I’m so okay with it being mine. I laugh when we do come across the people who think we’re a couple of strange hippies but, to me this is living and I feel more alive than I ever did in Orange County. Every day is a challenge because we don’t know where we’re going to sleep that night or when our next proper shower will be. But the freedom that comes with this lifestyle isn’t something you can put a price on and it’s not something I can fully explain. So though I spent several days “living in a van, down by the river” it wasn’t a low point in my life as it comically was for Chris Farley’s character.  It was a high one.

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