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There And Back Again

storm 11 °C
View The Red Center and Great Western Deserts on stevecrow's travel map.

So how will it all end?

Will it be the Newhart ending, where I wake up and realize I've actually never been to Australia, and tell my wife I just had the strangest dream, full of isolated rutted roads, juicy Kangaroo steaks, and people who can't quite understand me?

Will it be the Breaking Bad ending, where I finally reach Melbourne and lay down in the middle of Flagstaff Gardens, surrounded by brochures and receipts and maps of shitty caravan parks all around me, my last thoughts are of complete satisfaction in what I've accomplished?

Will it be the Sopranos ending, as I sit in some cafe in the Melbourne airport, waiting for my boarding time to take the long journey home...and I look up...and...

Or the Lost ending, where it turns out I was stranded in the Outback for months but actually I died getting there, but actually I'm back home trying to get back, but actually...I'm totally confused...

No, the best I can hope for is the Mash ending. Australia and I realize the end is here, we embrace lovingly knowing we may never see each other again, we momentarily revel in all the fond memories we've had together but we're ready to move on. And then she calls security on me, because some strange North American man is hugging her...and 'she' is actually a Qantas ticket agent at the checkin booth.

Day 17: Dear Perth,...Which Way Is North?

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My luck is uncharacteristically good since the storm doesn't hit shore until I'm well on my way from the trailer park to drop off the campervan-who-is-still-nameless. In fact the real downpour doesn't actually start until I've removed the very last of my personal belongings from the truck at the Britz outlet and pawned off all my unused food and water on some couple heading north to Broome in a massive motorhome. Just in time for the poor Britz lady to have to go out and survey all the, ah, war wounds the truck acquired along the way. Heh, heh, heh.

I'm completely covered for the damage, which is good since I reckon I dished out close to $1400 on insurance alone on the rental.

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Fast-forward to Perth, which I'm sure is an awesome city, but alas I'm not able to take much in due to the massive winds that blow a solid wall of water along the streets of downtown. In fact I see several rubbish bins with completely totalled umbrellas discarded in them.

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A nice lunch of steak and red wine and a brief nap and I start on my next mission: find a restaurant that serves Kangaroo. Despite the fact that the restaurant I ear-marked is about two blocks from my hotel, it takes me half an hour to walk there because for some reason I simply cannot tell North from South in this city, and end up getting not really lost, but totally disoriented along the way. It doesn't help that for whatever reason, Google Maps has taken on a 500m error margin which is so not helpful. So, I end I walking several blocks in the wrong direction. What a tool.

Turns out, the first time I had it wasn't a mistake, Kangaroo steaks really are the food of the Gods. I would move here and become a red meat fanatic just for these things.

You'd think that once I located the restaurant that my bearings would fall into place, but no, I totally wandered away from the hotel again. So I did what any street-smart tourist would do in the same situation...start stopping at bars along the way and having drinks. I have to find my way back eventually....right? (...hic!...)

Unfortunately, I do. And I have to get up really stinking early to catch my flight to Melbourne so that ends Perth for me. I have to come back some time. And bring a compass.

Wait, there's one on my iPhone. God-damnit!!!

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Day 18: Melbourne...The Grand Finale

  • * * *

Music has a certain magic about it that sometimes makes me really start to wonder about the ethereal energy that some claim surrounds us all. I'll try to explain as best as I can...

When I was first seriously contemplating this trip I was on an overnight trip to Seattle to see perhaps my favourite music artist, Neko Case. She had just released her new album, and on it is this short bit extremely powerful song called "Calling Cards". The song is lonely and contemplating, and for whatever reason as I listened to her new album over and over because honestly you simply cannot ever listen to too much Neko Case, in my mind a vision began to emerge: me, sitting in my truck on the Great Central Road at the turnoff to the Heather Highway that will eventually (through some amount of effort I now know) lead me to the Gunbarrel Highway, seemingly the corner-stone for this trip. I'm sitting in this truck, totally alone on the road, listening to this particular song, thinking of home and the people I've left behind but ready to drive out into the very essence of the Australian Outback on a spiritual journey.

It would have been way too obvious had my iPod suddenly selected this song as I sat at that intersection, which I did for a time, so I went ahead and selected it manually and gave it a good listen before heading on my way.

Fast-forward to Perth and I'm boarding the plane to take me to Melbourne. As I'm taking my seat, on the ambient background music that Qantas plays during preflight...this song starts to play. I haven't seen much evidence of Neko Case being a 'thing' here in Australia, and it is totally feasible, but what are the chances that this specific song plays...?

In the energy around us, the same one where our ghosts reside as we create them from our own emotional undertakings, evidently the chances are good. Emotionally now, I am experiencing both a peace and satisfaction in not only what I've accomplished here in Oz but in all my life, and at the same time this really makes me miss home which if I were to guess, is probably the whole unexplainable point.

Not sure that came across in an understandable way, but to sum it up briefly: you cannot make this shit up.

  • * * *

As it turns out, 5am exists on this side of the world as well. Ugh.

An unremarkable flight...other than the aforementioned musical kick-in-the-heart...and I'm in Melbourne for my last night here in Oz. Unfortunately, Melbourne really makes me wish I was here a while longer.

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For starters, for whatever reason, on first glance it reminds me a quite a bit of the west coast cities back home, Vancouver, Seattle, maybe Portland if I ever get the chance to spend any time there.

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But if you delve deep into the city core you'll find a twist labyrinth of pedestrian malls, underground shopping centres and long narrow alleyways of classic European-styled awesomeness.

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I've noticed a couple of off-the-cuff things here. First, the homeless who beg for change have more manners than most of us Canadians do. Also, and again this is only an observation, it seems that most people in this city smoke. Maybe Melbourne is not as carefree and lacking stress as much as it may seem to the outsider.

I've lost two hours on the flight from Perth, so I do not have as much time to take in what little of the city my time will afford me. Luckily the weather is very pleasant. If this is Australian winter, please sign me up.

A quick lunch of a massive Australian beef burger (what is with me and red meat here?) and I'm off to explore. Read: shop for souvenirs. I love the folks back home but this is my most hated activity here. Why? Because the souvenir shops sell mostly crap that was not made in Australia, and the few awesome things I find will not fit in either my luggage nor my carry one, because as I mentioned, unlike the clutter nazi I am at home, I do not pack light.

Luckily Melbourne has lots of old heritage buildings tucked in amongst all the modern architecture that provide a sound foundation for some tasteful and warranted photos.

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Souvenir shopping 'done', and a nice bottle of Shiraz recommenced by a local wine seller, and I'm ready for my final dinner here in Australia. Hmm...could it be...Kangaroo?

It takes over an hour to find a small handful of restaurants that serve the poor cute but succulent beast, and many of them have not received very favourable Trip Advisor reviews. I decide on one with the provision that if someone in the hotel can recommend a better one I'll consider.

I ask the barkeep at the hotel bar/restaurant, which results in absolutely no useful suggestions other than to get a truck and drive out and smack one myself and BBQ the unfortunate fucker. I might have known. But...at the bar I do manage to get into a conversation with a gentleman from Minnesota here for work, and during this conversation I told him what I was here in Australia doing and what I had done, and his eyes kind of lit up. I think...just maybe...I planted the seed for another would-be Outback adventurer. Yes......

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Lacking any useful suggestions from the barkeep, I go ahead and follow Google Maps to my choice of destination...looking a complete idiot in the process may I add wandering around with my phone in my hand like it were a universal translator. I visit a rather interesting place called Hardware Alley which is full of eateries and restaurants. The interesting thing here is the restaurants all employ people, mostly large Italian men, whose sole task is to lure you into their restaurant. They approach you and try to push you into their establishment, and this is not unlike the doormen in King's Cross back in Sydney for the, uh, Gentlemen's clubs. The schtick here is that you are supposed to play dumb and "I-don't-know-what-is-in-it-for-me" at which point you may be offered a discount, free appys, or free drinks. Unfortunately I am both not in the mood and have already decided where I'm going...since it serves Kangaroo. Easiest table the Mafia-ish doorman has ever sat.

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I've now finished my third dish of Roo in my lifetime, and all three have been amazing. Not sure I could claim asylum to stay here just to live on Kangaroo meat..but the thought is tempting...

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But folks, I think I'll end it here. I do not expect much interesting to happen between now and approx. 30 hours or so before I stumble through my front door, delirious and wondering what really just happened to me. I will say this: was this trip as remarkable as my first? I would have to say no...did I do more remarkable things? Definitely. I think a certain amount of familiarity robs the experience of novelty, even if that same familiarity brings a certain comfort one may have lacked the first time around. Do I want to do it again? Hell yes...but I will be completely satisfied with life if it never leads me here again. I have seen things and places that most people will never see, and that includes 90plus percent of Australians. I think I have managed to open up a certain aspect of life denied many who never wander far from their doorstep, that even in the absence of long-distance travel provides an inner peace, a certain knowing, a maturity that cannot be gained on the football fields in high-school or even through the natural progression of West-Coast life.

The rather unfortunate thing is, believe it or not, I still have not discovered why I came here a second time. I do not think I found what I was looking for. Because...I don't know what that was.

But I do know one thing...I have finally decided to name the campervan, the one I left to Britz way back in Perth what seems so long ago, but was actually only a bit over a day ago. In any case, I've decided, lacking any better options, to simply name her Ghost.

Because no matter where she goes from now on, that is what she will carry with her...until the very final bumper-crumple of her useful lifetime.

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  • * * *

OK, I lied slightly. I can't end it quite yet, because as I return to the hotel I glimpse into the bar and see my American friend still standing in the same spot at the bar where I left him a couple hours ago. I cannot pass up this opportunity.

A Canadian, an American, a New Zealander (emigrated to OZ) and a full-blooded Outbacker Aussie are at a bar. They are talking about Canada, the US, Oz and New Zealand in many different aspects - social, political, environmental...and whatever the adjective is that means "about wine".

The barkeep - in spirit an Aussie version of Viktor is joining in as well, complementing our discussion with samples of different wines from Oz and New Zealand. It should be noted that, whilst I was out seeking flame-grilled hoppie, my new American compatriot likely never left his post and has been sliding the beer down with one hand, and Jamison shots with the other. The New Zealander and I, intentionally or not (well...I was doing it kind of on purpose) start bombarding him, a sort of a cool Will-Sasso-Meets-Paul-Giamatti guy from Minnesota, with details about all the things he needs to do and places he needs to see here in Australia. Rent a 4WD. Visit the coast. Fuck off into the wilderness. Eat kangaroo. Go to this specific pub...take the ferry to blah blah blah...etc. The point is, we are quite entertained by the fact that we know he simply cannot any longer keep up details of what we are telling him, and he compensates for this with a series of frantic hand-gestures in different directions as we fill him in on all ways Australia can make him a more complete person. Entertaining for sure, but hardly fair. He realizes this shortly and pats us all on the back and promptly disappears to his room. A good sport.

The New Zealander and I continue to discuss wine until the influx of cussing in his otherwise normal sounding language tips him off that it is also time for him to call to call it a night.

That leaves me with the Outbacker, a bloke aptly named Mick. We discuss the Outback and all the places I've been and all the places I should go. But at one point he asks me: do you think it would be better with another person with you? I have to think about this...because on one hand if, for instance, my wife were with me to share and discover all these places I think the whole experience would be far more enriching in many ways. But in some ways, just some, only a couple...maybe doing it alone was how I was always meant to see it. In this way the experience becomes part of me, and only me. These places become only for me I leave only a single ghost everywhere I go, a ghost destined to spend eternity embellishing the isolation and satisfying loneliness of the Australian Outback.

But of course, so far, this is the only way I've done it, so what do I know?

I wish him farewell, and he shakes my hand, again congratulating me on what I've accomplished: "Good on ya, mate". I've heard this a couple times and I think it is by far the best compliment I could wish for.

I'll try to cherish it as I nurse a hangover and lack of sleep the next morning when I spend a full 24 hours getting home.

Thanks for reading. Until next time.

- Steve

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Posted by stevecrow 07:57 Archived in Australia

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Comments

Good stuff Steve :) I like the way you write. Shame about your rainy experience in Perth... but then that sums up our winters. Summer is much better here. Yes Melbourne is a fun cosmopolitan city with very friendly people. Enjoyed the read.
Cheers
Ann

by aussirose

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