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The International Writers Magazine: World Travel

Tales of OZ
Tabytha Towe

Leaving Thailand nearly a month ago was extremely surreal and rather hard to let go of. I was still stuck in Thai mode for a few days until I realized, abashed and confused, that ‘shit, I’m in Australia!?’ I’m afraid further stories of the last sector of bewildered and brilliant weeks in that wonderful place will have to be postponed to a later date, for I’m on to a new chapter right now – although the book on Thailand is definitely still open.

Upon my first hesitant step on foreign soil once again I arrived with the anticipation of seeing my new home with the nervous excitement of a new life for a full year, the longest time I will have spent in one place other than Vancouver, Canada. To my relief, there, awaiting me at the airport was a beautiful Stallion: actually an ’86 Mitsubishi but disguised as a make shift camper van. The improvisation and careful skill to make it not only road-worthy but also suitable for living in was highly impressive, right down to a bed and fold up kitchen set! Home sweet home.

Ever since I was 14 years old I had always wanted to ‘run away’ and live out of a Volkswagen van on Venice Beach in L.A., now my dream was finaly coming true, but under more promising circumstances. Responsible for this set up was a knight in shining armor: actually more of a tired young man who drove for days to meet me at the airport, (whom also happens to be a former roommate, co-worker and yes you figured it, a lover from back home a year ago.)

He was swift to take the reigns and immediately show me some of the city before I crashed from the time difference. I hadn’t slept in over 30 hours as I had to fly from Bangkok to Hong Kong then to Sydney. One would tend to become a little delirious after three countries in a row, but I was more than awake to comply with staying up to see Bondi Beach nearby. I had assumed it to be quite spectacular as it is world famous, though much to my dismay it seemed a bit over rated. I reckon Wreck beach in Vancouver is far better, in fact. But nonetheless it was a new beach I have never seen before and despite the fact I couldn’t swim in the inticing cool waters as I had been freshly tattooed in Bangkok. I was relaxed and happy to be there, even though I was sweating from the humidity, jet lagged and missing Thailand.

Being a roadie was a lot of fun, though sometimes had less glamorous occasions. Finding a spot to park and sleep without getting spotted and therefore kicked out, ticketed or towed can be annoying, as pubs, beaches etc, are always in the busy areas where we could not overnight park and anywhere else would have been a far too drunken walk.
We usually got away with residential street parking though, very clever.

One night in a National park we had to close the doors as possums (we think) were climbing on our roof. Reckon they wanted a snuggle with us! Our plug in cooler (or esky in Aussie) was broken and spoiled all of our food by actually heating it up rather than cooling our ingredients in which to feed off for days. Finding public showers at beaches or community centres was no problem, just not as luxurious as a private or hot wash. We hung up our laundry on the doors to dry in the sun, our clothing was kept in tubs underneath our "living room", the space between the bed and the seats that is, and soon enough we changed clothes like professionals! The toilet was the best and worst part. I was used to squatt peeing in Thailand, so doing it outside the back of the door was no big deal, except that passers by could see you, which did occur more than once in my case.

The van had a given us a lot of grief as well no less, finicky as to when she wanted to start or not, run on gas or not, leak water or not…but despite all her troubles she always managed somehow until the problem was momentarily fixed or something else broke down. Nonetheless the long hours spent cruising in her were also spent appreciating her.

We slept every night in either sweltering heat, downpour rain or with an invasion of insects every night. It was aggravating waking up itchy from bites in mornings, but it was also pleasant opening your eyes to outside, as we always left doors open to breathe. Towards the last week or so of our road house expedition, our mattress and floor had been soaked and started to smell mildewy and disgusting. I’m absolutely frantic about bacteria and manifested the fear of asbestos even, so she, the van, needs a good cleansing. Due to financial reasons mostly, our adventures for the time being has subsided and after a month van living put on hold until further recreation and travels.

After a few days spent in Sydney and catching up with friends both from my travels in Europe and from my home town, in which, coincidently, there are at least four of us here all at the same time whom I have been lucky to see or bump into so far, (all the while neither of us had known about each other coming to OZ until after plane tickets had already been booked, crazy timing.) My co-pilot and I (the knight) had decided to get on our way and hit the road to drive down the coast via Moruya and Narooma, to visit more friends basically.

Our goal was to have an open plan, pretty much no itinerary except to drive and live out of the van, only stopping at a few towns en route until we found a place to settle, work, replenish wallets then hit the road again.
Admittedly I had run out of money back in October in Europe, never mind the non existent Asia funds. Now I was broke here too. I am obliged to pay off a truck load on my credit cards and of course, personal debts in IOU’s. But hey, money comes and goes, I’ve done well considering empty pockets. Hopefully our path can cover New South Wales to Queensland then back down through to Western Australia within the 10 months I have left, as I am saving one month to visit New Zealand as well.

The first town we arrived at after some R and R in the Southern Coast of NSW we took a detour to a small town called Tamworth where it turns out there was an annual, famous Country Music Festival. My eyes gazed at many young girls with pregnant bellies, at old folks watching line dancers with their heads nodding asleep, at fat couples stuffing their faces with cheap barbie bopping to guitar rythyms, at belligerent drunk juveniles taking advantage of drinking in the street hootin’ and a hollerin’; it was the most fun I’ve ever had surrounded by plain downhome folks!

The population is 50,000 but the next 10 days it was to be quadrupled by eager cowboy-hat wearing fans ready to guzzle beers and party old western style.

My fun during the festivities also claimed misfortune in the end, as my luck tends to go. It’s extremely humiliating and sounds completely irresponsible, so I don’t really want to admit it, but it dictates the rest of my trip over this year so it must be told. Apparently Australia is compellingly strict with rules and regulations. The mere fact that my luggage took a month to arrive from Hong Kong because of fear from the DHL that my bag may be contaminated with a foreign virus (???) please, but they are known to be overly cautious and hence it’s a safe place to be.

First of all I should tell you that I had adapted to driving on the opposite side of painted cement quite dilligently and really enjoy the windy, scenic thoroughfares. However I have never witnessed so much road kill before, possums, magpies, even kangaroos! Through the forest there was an unidentifiable creature nearly every 10 kms of manuveure, broke my heart at every sight.

One calm night, going "home" early from the bar, getting tired from a days worth of country music and three beers in * I won’t let it go unnoticed that it was over a 2 and a half hour period and with glasses of water to match each schooner, thank you very much* I was inclined in the roundabout to turn in front of a police vehicle that incidently just had to do a Random Breathlyser Test. Grrrr! In Canada the limit is .08% but here the deservingly tight assed law --from too many cases of blatent, drunk Aussies getting into alcohol related accidents, the limit is therefore .05%. I was driving straight and within the speed restrictions when the police said it was just their duty to perform random pull over tests. I emphasise Random, but unfortunately, just a few kilometers away from where we were going to park, there in the van I precariously blew over. I was then taken to the station and had paper work to be arranged for a court date…we had to stay in Tamworth another three days after all. The morning of my plea to the judge, anxiously waiting in the courthouse four hours before my trial and without the re-aasurance of lawyer coercing, I had no choice but to stupidly represent myself. I didn’t do a very good job under the circumstances as the bitch fined me $770 AUD which I obviously do not have and then proceeded with the audacious grace to suspend my drivers liscense for 6 months. This was certainitly awful news considering this is while on my Australian road trip.

Bloody hell!!!! Fair enough I was in the wrong but I was harmless and the penalty was an outrageous slap in the face. I’m not in Kansas anymore. Why I didn’t do my research or wait another hour before I took to the steering wheel, or even 5 seconds later so that I would have been behind the police car in the roundabout, who can say? What Fate Makes Break. Oh well, such is as is life. A harsh, learned lesson.

Thereafter hence we just wanted to leave the town festival quickly, and then after some car troubles, running out of petrol and my not being allowed to drive anymore, we made it though Grafton and at last to our destination. Byron Bay is a sweet little paradise, you can tell it used to be filled with local hippies and surfers, but now it’s mostly tourists, very obvious when you have to rent a room out by the week and have seven other roommates, as we do now (it’s impossible to find a place for rent unshared as it would cost $600-700 per week in a coastal holiday town.)

Apparently camping on Byron grounds is an offense, so after getting caught twice our good old and extremely distinguishable van was already recognized by authorities. We had to decide if we wanted to be fugitive campers or stay as residents. We figured the latter, thought maybe it was time to settle for that bit, have a real hot shower available and get some of that stuff called "work" again. In so far found a place rather fast, luckily with really cool flat mates regardless that there are now a total of nine of us with only one bathroom, but work has yet to be discovered again.

No one of course told me that you have to pay to get a job first!? I can’t get a simple restaurant or bar job (which I needed as of yesterday) until I take training courses to qualify my skills in order to please the government safety net. Other experience or approved certificates do not apply. I panicked that in the meantime, as courses are not frequently available here, that I’d have to accept handing out flyers for another competitive travel agency which no one wants to earn a buck, but music to my ears one came up and I now am Australian qualified. Beggars can’t be choosers mind you.

So now I have a temporary idea of living. I want to get a bike and long board to get around and get in shape, take yoga classes to strengthen my mind, body and soul, learn to surf (almost got up first try, beginners luck I’ve realized but at least have a surf board already) and find a damned job!
Speaking of which, I’m going to hand out resumes right now…
Till next time, cheerio!
© Tabytha Towe Feb 6th 2008

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