Tag Archives: beach

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.

Tourist in My Backyard: Venice Beach Freak Show

21 Aug

The Venice Beach Freak Show is the kind of attraction you never pay to see when you’re a Southern Californian because all of Venice is a freak show, really. But last week I hosted two lovely Kiwi couchsurfers and when we walked the famous boardwalk and saw the two-headed turtles outside the freak show, the MC lured us in with promises of even freakier animals and objects inside. What was five bucks when it came to having this quirky Venice experience?

When we walked inside two sideshow performers were just finishing up their act and we looked over right as the man was pulling a sword out of his throat.  A young boy was escorted out because he almost fainted and since the next show began in twelve minutes we decided to work our way up to it.

We turned left for the museum of freaky artifacts and animals and saw a live two-tailed iguana in a cage at the entrance. The woman behind the counter introduced us to her five-legged dog and told us he was just featured on an episode of the Dog Whisperer. She pulled out jar after jar of of two-headed pigs with other anomalies: five ears, five legs, two separate bodies conjoined at the head, etc.

The back of the room had skeletons of conjoined human twins and of the mythical Chuppacabra. There were glass cases with an eerie cycloptic dog, the skeletons of bizarre humanistic-alien-looking sea animals, a two-headed goat, a two-headed calf and other taxidermied animals.

We braced ourselves and grabbed our cameras when the freak-show began. The male-female duo took turns performing their unique acts. The woman sat in an electric chair,  showed off her double jointed arms and elbows and breathed fire. The man swallowed a sword and put a hook through his nose and out his mouth. I cringed, I gagged but it was all good fun. Rosa, the Kiwi, sat right in the middle of the action and commented later that the male performer’s skin looked waxy. He reminded me of gothic David Bowie. Do you see it?

Tourist in My Backyard: Best Coast @ the US Open

9 Aug

Courtesy of the beautiful Lisa Aoyagi

I absolutely adore Best Coast. Their angst-driven lyrics about unrequited love and the pitfalls of dating make me wish I had their tunes to comfort me when I was in high school. And “Summer Mood” epitomizes California garage-pop and makes me feel understood and close to home even when I’m in a far-off land.

When I heard they were playing a free show at the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach I had to play hooky from work – there was no way I was going to sit in an office when I could have a quintessential Orange County experience in Surf City, USA. Best Coast didn’t go on until 5:30 PM so we made a day of it. The cooler was full of Blue Moons and my flask was full of vodka. We parked miles away from the beach in a residential area to avoid the insanely inflated event parking fees and sipped our libations as we walked to the beach.

The US Open itself was pretty anti-climatic, even though we stood on the wet shore just a few yards from the action. The beach was packed with locals, tourists and teeny-boppers, who couldn’t have been older than 16 and were wearing unflattering and uncalled-for Brazilian-cut bathing suits with obnoxious writing all over their bodies proudly displaying their phone numbers or the words “free hugs”, “single” or some kind of ridiculous hash tag. I prayed to God I would not run into my 18-year-old sister because if I saw her dressed like that I would have to bury her in the sand until I could find her a cover-up.

Just before the show started we left the half-naked kiddie display to grab a drink on Main Street. We ended up at Sharkeez and ordered Long Island Iced-Teas that tasted like lemonade and cost $8. Do not go there. The chips were stale and the $7 shots weren’t even an ounce. Thank God for my flask…

When it was time we joined the herd and pushed our way through the massive, tightly packed crowd from the side of the stage and tried our best to get as close to the front as we could. The crowd waited anxiously for the threesome to appear and wailed as lead singer Bethany Cosentino started strumming her guitar. Do not be fooled by Best Coast’s surfer-stoner vibe or they’re less than perfect acoustic renditions – they have serious talent and are even better live because you can hear the full depth of their sound. Their “I Want To” and “Boyfriend” performances made me fall in love with these songs even harder because I got to feel them and at one point I found myself dancing so hard I bumped into my poor neighbors.

Best Coast is moody, melodic and punky but watching them perform as I swayed, singing along with sand between my toes, felt like the proper way to experience this band. Their name is Best Coast after-all and here we were – on the coast.

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