Hello again from Sydney!
Well, I seem to be getting lazier and lazier about updating this blog…and I’m sure most of you who know me are completely unsurprised! Anyway, I’ve got a bit of catching up to do, so here goes:
I believe I left off in Bundaberg. The Big 4 we stayed in wasn’t as nice as most of the others we’d seen, but the people running it were fantastic. We visited the Bundaberg Rum Distillery and I now know all I ever needed to about making rum. Jessica cried and repeatedly licked my shirt when we gave her some molasses to try out. I had much the same reaction during the rum tasting section of the tour. The barman laughed at my sour face and offered me a lollipop.
The highlight of Bundaberg, though, was the sea turtle experience. We headed out to the turtle sanctuary just before dark. On the way the guy was telling us that the previous nights visitors had to wait until 1am before a turtle finally stuck around long enough to lay her eggs. We were reconciling ourselves to a long, boring evening of waiting around with a cranky three year old. However, about five minutes after we arrived - before the conservatory (or whatever you call the beach shack selling turtle stuff) even opened its doors - we were informed there was a leatherhead turtle on the beach. Because we had (unknowingly) chosen the more expensive tour, we were the first group up.
A group of about fifty or so people trooped down the beach in the dark and arranged themselves in a rough circle around the turtle. All we could see at that point was a big hump in the sand. (With Jessica in the background: WHAT turtle Mommy? I dont SEE any turtle! Lets build a sandcastle!) She was massive! I hadn’t really known what to expect and had never seen a big sea turtle before; her shell was about four feet long. Of course, we didn’t bother to buy the printout of all the stats on our turtle so I don’t remember the details!!
Until she started laying her eggs we weren’t allowed to disturb her with lots of movement or lights. Apparently, though, we could talk because turtles don’t hear the same frequencies we do. The lady with us gave us all sorts of information about turtles and their nesting habits that I won’t bore you with. The one interesting fact that I do remember is that if the temperature of the nest is relatively cool during incubation, most of the babies will be male. Conversely, if the nest is warmer, the babies will be female. Too hot, and the eggs won’t be viable – climate change being part of the reason leatherhead population is at risk.
Eventually, the turtle finished digging her nest and began to lay her eggs. The ranger gave us a little more light so we could see a bit better. Here’s where the numbers of people started to get really annoying. People were pushing and shoving and refusing to get down in front so people could see. Rude tourists. But, eventually, we all got a chance to watch some of the eggs drop into the nest up close and personal. Once the turtle begins to lay her eggs, you could drop a bomb and she wouldn’t notice! She laid over 150 eggs, and covered the nest. Unfortunately, they allow people to take flash photos during the time where she’s covering her nest. So 50 people (not including me) decide to take a hundred photos each; causing us all to go completely flash-blind. I really wish they didn’t allow photography! Once she finished covering the nest, we followed her down the beach and watched her disappear into the ocean.
It turned out that the turtle had built her nest too close to the high tide line so the ranger needed to relocate it. Traditionally, they would leave it to nature, but with the declining populations they move the nests that are threatened by tide or temperature. So, he dug up the nest and we all got to help carry the eggs to the new nest. They are almost exactly the same size and consistency of a ping pong ball. Very cool!! Even Jessica got to carry an egg (with Mommy helping, of course).
From Bundaberg, we headed to Brisbane. Grant was driving when we arrived in the city and didn’t bother to ask me for directions, or even figure out which caravan park I had in mind. He just merrily headed into the city figuring hed eventually see a sign for a caravan park. Then, when he DID see a sign, he ignored it and decided that one wasn’t good enough. (Although how he could determine this by a small blue sign that looks EXACTLY like every other road sign for caravan parks, is beyond me) Through all this, I was napping in the back. Finally, I caught wind of the muttering up front and the stop and go of the traffic and I went up front to offer assistance as a navigator.
We were downtown, in rush hour, and he had no idea what road we were on or which direction he needed to go to find a caravan park. (Mom, if youre reading this: remember in LA when Dad headed straight out of the rental place onto the freeway with no idea what direction he should be going when you hadn’t even OPENED the map yet? Then yelled at you for not knowing what exit he should take?) At that point, Grant decided that we didn’t really need to see Brisbane at all and we’d just keep going south until we left the city! I managed to figure out where we were and help him find a caravan park - after several unsuccessful tries with the stupid little maps that come in the travel brochures, we finally found one at the outskirts of the city. Not the nicest place in the world, so we vowed to relocate in the morning.
Exhausted and grouchy, we headed over to a nearby mall to try to find somewhere for dinner. Unfortunately for Grant, I spotted the sale of the century at a surf shop near where he’d parked. After ages in that store (where I got some VERY good deals, thank you very much) poor Grant was about at the end of his tether and desperately needed to eat! Thankfully, we stumbled upon a Sizzler which turns out to be a massive buffet-style restaurant that’s perfect for kids and reasonably priced. Hooray!
The following morning, we headed into Brisbane with the intention of going to the museum. It was my turn for a frustrating day of driving. We found the museum easily, but couldn’t for the life of us find any parking. Everything was underground parking and we couldn’t fit our vehicle in. After about half an hour of driving back and forth, we called it quits and drove to the caravan park we had decided to relocate to. Thankfully, we found it with no problems at all and it was a really nice place with good wireless connectivity - a rarity, believe me!!
We took the bus downtown the following afternoon and saw the museum. Jessica LOVED it. She was so excited by all the exhibits and didn’t want to leave at all. They had the smallest boat to circumnavigate the globe there. It was maybe 10-15 feet long and I couldn’t imagine being cooped up in such a small place all by myself in the middle of the ocean!
After the museum, we headed to the local market where I bought a pretty pearl necklace. I’m amassing quite the jewelry collection, which is kind of funny, since I never wear it! I have vowed to actually wear the stuff when I get home. We stumbled upon another Sizzler so we ate there again. Jessica LOVES the fact she can have ice cream with baby marshmallows on it - kid heaven! On the walk home (made longer by the fact that I got the bus stops muddled up) we rode a Ferris wheel at night time, and checked out a wonderful Christmas window display with Aussie animals standing in for the traditional nativity figures. This was accompanied by people walking by in shorts, and a guy playing a steel drum just down the block. What a far cry from a typical Christmas in Calgary!
Next on the agenda was the Gold Coast; the tourist Mecca of Australia. We planned to spend about ten days there taking in some beaches, and some of the local theme parks. So, we bought a 14 day pass to three of the parks, and settled in to a caravan park adjacent to two of the parks.
What a horrible caravan park!! They had a card system to access the washrooms. One card per family. One poor family had FOUR kids and they only got one card! Apparently Dad lost the card one night after a long day at the theme parks and the office was closed. Four little kids - no bathroom access. They spent ages tearing apart their caravan until they found the stupid thing. Once, somebody’s kid stuck a coin in the card slot for the ladies bathroom – effectively locking everyone out of the washroom for hours. No phone number to call for maintenance after hours, either. Thankfully, some enterprising guy got the coin out with a pocket knife - amidst much applause from the ladies in attendance!
The card system also worked for the laundry, too - or, rather DIDN’T work for the laundry. Every time I wanted to do laundry, the card system was broken. Every time I wanted to access the internet, the internet was down. The nearest phone was a 15 minute walk away, too. The showers in the bathroom had this awful mat in them that was essentially a hair catcher. Thankfully I have shoes to shower in! They’d advertised a game room that they’d since demolished to put up a motel unit, and the much touted jumping pillow for kids had no cover over the top so it scalded little feet when there was any amount of sun. Toddlers who were not potty trained were not allowed in the pool even with swim diapers on. (A rule we cheerfully broke) We finally asked for a refund on the ninth day when a sewer line broke directly across from our camper. I’m sure its going to be a very nice place when they get the renovations finished, but it ended up being a nightmare for us!
We arrived on a Sunday morning, and Grant was SO excited to see a theme park that we headed off to Movie World that same afternoon. We got SOAKED coming back from the theme park. Its a 20 minute walk and it was absolutely pouring. I’ve never been so wet in my life. We got home and had this huge pile of soaking clothing – and, of course, the laundry was broken for days so they were lovely and mildewed by the time I got them properly washed!
I think we ended up at Movie World five separate times over the two weeks we had tickets. Jessica loved it there. She had a blast hugging all the characters and is completely fearless when it comes to rides. Well, except for the log ride. She was definitely NOT impressed with getting so wet on the log ride! By the second trip there, she was going on all the little kid rides by herself. It was SO cute to watch her little serious face as she got on the ride. She wouldn’t even crack a smile while she was on the ride because she had to be very grown up to go on the ride all by herself. The bumper cars were really funny. She couldn’t manage to steer properly and invariably ended up in a corner with little kid road rage!
Movie World had the best grown-up ride out of the three theme parks we went to. The Superman Escape was a roller coaster sort of ride that - well - went REALLY fast. I lost count of how many times Grant rode the thing. Luckily, the lines were never very long, and we had 14 day tickets, so we could leave when we got tired of being there without missing anything.
Sea World was pretty much like any other Sea World. It had some aquariums, with some massive sharks and even had some Canadian polar bears. At first, I was not impressed that they had polar bears given the issues they had with the poor polar bear in Calgary. But, I must say, they have done a fantastic job with the enclosure there and the bears seem happy and well adjusted. Jessica LOVED the dolphin and seal shows. The big kid rides were pretty lame, but the kids section was fantastic. Jessica rode the carousel five times in a row once. We didn’t go to the water park there, but it looked really good. They had a temporary Ferris wheel that was massive and you could see for miles. I’m not sure why its only temporary, but I think it was what was causing some of the confusing navigation, because the park was laid out really weird and we kept getting turned around.
The first week we were there, the weather was cloudy and it rained off and on. Not enough to stop us from going to Movie World or Sea World, but the water park Wet n Wild was not very appealing. (Not to mention the still-leaking camper roof was starting to be a pain in the butt) We finally ended up at Wet n Wild on a Saturday; a Saturday after it had rained for a week. NOT the brightest move. It was packed and really oppressive. We ended up leaving after about two hours, but Jess had a lot of fun shooting water guns at people in the park. The lines were so long for any of the slides that we didn’t bother trying.
We went back to Wet n Wild the following week on a cloudy weekday and it was still pretty busy, if not a complete mad-house. At that point, we discovered that you need to have two or more people to ride most of the cool slides. Since someone had to watch Jessica, we couldn’t go on most of them. Neither of us had the patience to find strangers to ride with, and then stand in line for an hour to try out the rides. So, we floated around in some tubes for a while and Jessica swam in the kiddie section and shot the water guns for a bit, and we left it at that! It looks like a wonderful place to take older kids, and it has a really good section for the littlies to play in.
Due to unforeseen issues with our Vietnamese visa applications, we had way too much time to kill on the Gold Coast. (Story to come..) We had NOT anticipated being there for three weeks! Thankfully, we had tickets to the theme parks that were good for unlimited use for 14 days. But, one does get tired of theme parks! After the first nine days, we packed it in at the horrible caravan park, and headed down the coast a bit to another Big 4. It was a really nice place had some more amenities, but it was still a bit rainy so we didn’t do as much mini-golfing, etc that we would have liked.
We headed to the local outlet mall and did some shopping. I found a new bathing suit and Grant bought some Ray Bans. We saw movies two nights in a row. This was mostly in self-defense, because nights had been so rainy and we’d been cooped up in the camper. Plus, for some reason, Jessicas sleeping schedule has gotten all out of whack and shes now going to sleep around midnight and getting up around ten or so. (Well sort this out after New Years Eve, but its going to come in handy then!) This meant we were cooped up in a small space with little or nothing to do after 6pm. So we saw Charlottes Web - which was fantastic - and Open Season - which was average.
Once we got tired of that area, we changed caravan parks again to one right in Surfers Paradise. It was an average sort of place, but it was right across from the beach! We were finally blessed with some really good weather so we hit the beach, and made good use of the pool. The beach was wonderful (and topless, which Grant loved and Jessica didn’t seem to notice - thankfully) Jessica had an absolute blast playing in the waves and making friends with a little Dutch girl that we met there. She was playing in the surf with her little friend who was about a foot taller than her. I had repeatedly told her not to go in past her ankles, but her taller friend kept going in deeper so she followed. Sure enough, she’s in up to her thighs and a bigger wave knocks her over and tumbles her along the sand about six times before I can get to her - and I was standing only a few feet away! I thought that would be the end of the ocean for her, but after a few sobs and a slug of lemon squash to rinse out the saltwater, she was right back at it!
That weekend, we went to the local market. What an awesome place! Hundreds of stalls all selling cool stuff. The best market we’ve been to so far. I bought some really pretty silver bangles. As I was deciding which of the bracelets to buy, Grant and Jessica were hanging out waiting for me just outside the stall. It started raining and we hear this little voice come out of the stroller: F*CK its raining! Mommy turns scarlet, Daddys jaw drops – we’re trying not to kill ourselves laughing and at the same time strike the proper tone in telling her not to use that word again. Thankfully, she learned it at Sea World from some girls in the bathroom and not from Mommy!!
Later that day, I had been browsing in a book stall and caught up with Grant outside a tattoo place. We’d seen temporary tattoo places everywhere along the Gold Coast and Grant had wanted one for ages and couldn’t decide what to get. Jessica got a gecko on her leg at Movie World, but Grant couldn’t ever decide so never got one. He’d obviously been looking at them for awhile when I came up. I asked him if he was getting a tattoo and he said: yep - Im just trying to decide which one. Well, after waiting around for ten minutes or so, and having seen THIS before, I’m impatiently telling him: look, just bloody pick something and lets get moving, the markets closing in an hour. He got all huffy about not having enough time to decide and we moved on to some other stalls. I didn’t think anything of it, until he told me later on that the tattoo place did REAL tattoos and he had been seriously thinking about getting a tattoo from some random guy at a market stall!! Here I am saying just hurry up and pick whatever!!
The one memorable thing from the caravan park at Surfers Paradise was undoubtedly the family that we dubbed the loser family. I think they had about six kids all under the age of ten. They couldn’t be bothered watching the kids so they pretty much ran wild and annoyed everyone. Several times, I saw the littlest kid who was about two years old running along in nothing but a diaper trying to ride one of his older siblings’ scooters on the road. He had no shoes, no helmet, and no parents anywhere in sight. These people were a nightmare. You couldn’t go into the games room because loser Dad was always swearing at the pinball machine (with his butt crack hanging out of his pants and bad tattoos everywhere) whilst his two year old and four year old sat atop the air hockey game and whacked it with the paddles as loud as they could. Mom would come by every now and then and jerk the kids to the floor and scream at them to stop - then wander away. Loser Dad’s idea of supervising his two year old at the pool was to put armbands on him and then promptly fall asleep in the sun. We were not really surprised when the police visited the loser family tent one evening – but were DYING to know why!!
We did some more shopping in Surfers Paradise -when bored, go shopping … and Grant FINALLY found some board shorts that he loves, after much looking. Grant took Jessica to this weird light show/maze thing and, after she got over her initial fear, she really liked it. She visited Santa about six times but never got up the nerve to actually talk to him. She would tell us all the things she was going to say, and then clam up at the crucial moment! At this point, we were pretty much killing time until we got our passports back, which leads us to the visa story: The first Friday, we decided to head into town and send off our visa applications for Vietnam. Grant had spoken to a travel agent in Cairns about getting them and she told him it was a piece of cake to do it yourself. So, I’d emailed the embassy and got an email back saying we should send in the applications early and then drop by when we hit Sydney and get our passports stamped. This seemed the logical way to do it, as we had no address to send the passports to us when they were finished, and we planned to be in Sydney over Christmas so there wouldn’t be time to just apply in person. However, when I called the embassy, the guy didn’t seem to think that would work. GRRR. Had we known we were going to end up using a travel agency anyway, we’d have done it the instant we arrived on the Gold Coast - instead of waiting five days!
So, we went off to a travel agency and after a couple hours of fooling around with forms and stuff, we sent off our applications using them. At that point it was Friday, December 8th and we were told 6 business days maximum to get the visas back to us. It was a bit longer than we wanted to stay but not too bad. The following Monday (Dec 11), I get an email saying we’d sent in the wrong forms. So, Tuesday we head into town and get new forms, etc and essentially waste another day at the mall. The applications should have arrived at the embassy on the 13th, so we expected to have our passports back by the Wednesday the 20th at the latest. We had to be in Sydney by the 23rd because we had a caravan park booked over Christmas and didn’t want to lose the booking. We kissed our chance to see much of the coastline between Surfers Paradise and Sydney goodbye. However, when we dropped in on the Wednesday, they said that our visas weren’t due to be finished until Friday the 22nd. Since the passports first went to their Brisbane office and then got sent down to the Gold Coast, if they got in too late for the Friday courier, we wouldn’t get them until AFTER Boxing Day!! The travel agent seemed unconcerned because we had January 3rd as our departure date, so what was the big deal if it took twice as long as expected to get our visas back? (Although we had told her we were headed on to Sydney) Much frustration later, our passports arrived in the LAST courier before Christmas and we jumped in the truck and set of for Sydney.
Also during this visa mess, we discovered that Canada had issued a travel advisory for our next destination; Fiji. There has been a military coup and the situation was somewhat unstable. So, I promptly cancelled all of our bookings and resigned myself to losing $1500 in non-refundable flights, and having to figure out what we were going to do with ourselves for a month. After much discussion with travel agents, and some emails from the places we’d booked with in Fiji, we decided to re-book everything and just wait and monitor the situation. At the moment, it looks as though its reasonably safe to go to the areas were planning to travel. Some countries have lifted their travel advisories, although Canada’s is still in effect. Were crossing our fingers that the situation only improves from here on in!! Otherwise, as Grant puts it: our time in Fiji will either be a lot shorter or a LOT longer than we anticipated!
The drive to Sydney was pretty uneventful and LONG. We got in the campervan at 4pm and drove until about 9pm stopping at a rest stop for the evening. We’d bought a REALLY bad kids cd of Aussie Christmas music that we were pretty tired of by the time we got to Sydney the following afternoon. Because of the visa delay, we ended up missing out on a lot of stuff between Surfers Paradise and Sydney.
Upon arrival in Sydney, Grant promptly backed into a tree with the campervan because the site they gave us was too small. Thank God for insurance! They gave us another site which is right by the amenities block. Unfortunately, it’s Christmas and theres a bunch of drunken backpackers using the TV room as a bar - and its within earshot of our site. We had one guy still awake at 6am on the 27th singing Hello I love you at the top of his lungs to his girlfriend via cell phone. Amazingly, this is the first time that we’ve had any real problems with noise in any place. We chalked it up to the Christmas holiday.
My birthday on the 24th was pretty uneventful. All this talk of aging and birthdays has prompted Jessica to give a dramatic sigh on occasion and say: Whew I’m getting OLD! It rained on my birthday so we couldn’t really do anything outside. We went to a movie and saw Flushed Away, which was pretty cute. They have fantastic theaters here! The seats are super comfortable, and they assign seating so when its busy you don’t have to search for your seat and you can reserve what you want in advance. That evening we strung up some Christmas lights inside the camper so it was all festive.
Christmas was fun - we slept in, as usual, and then Jessica opened her presents. It was a lovely sunny day so we went for a hike along the river. The caravan park is in a national park and its really pretty area. You can hardly believe were anywhere near a city. Tons of families were having Christmas picnics along the river. That evening, we went to another movie - Happy Feet. VERY cute. We figured we’d have a hard time finding a restaurant that was a) open b) good c) inexpensive d) didn’t require us to dress up. So we ate pasta instead of Christmas dinner and went to a movie.
Aside from the partying backpackers, this caravan park is wonderful. We get nightly visits from adorable possums - one of whom has been named Freddy. Freddy ate out of Grants hand, but the little devil bit my finger. Thankfully he didn’t draw any blood or I’d be off for some rabies shots! There’s a flock of wild rainbow lorikeets that will eat right out of your hand. They are so sweet! I had three of them on my hand at once eating out of the palm. It’s fantastic until they start squabbling and dig their claws into your cuticles for a better grip! Along all the walkways, there are cool lizards of all shapes and sizes sunning themselves. We must’ve seen fifty lizards on our walk down by the river. Kookaburras laugh from the trees, too. It’s so nice to be in a more natural setting after the more touristy places on the Gold Coast.
On the 27th, we took a day trip into the Blue Mountains. What a fantastic day! We lucked out and got absolutely perfect weather and a wonderfully funny tour guide. We went with the cheapest company (Oz Experience) and I had been worried about the quality of the tour. But what a great day! We met up with the tour downtown Sydney at 8am (after a $40 cab ride because they’ve shut down the northern trains this week and the busses take ages) We did some hiking in the mountains to see the three sisters, and rode the worlds steepest railway back up the mountain. Grant had given Jessica’s child carrier away the day before, so we were missing that pretty sorely as we schlepped her up and down some really steep steps trying to keep up with the tour!
Michael, our guide, took us to some take-away places for lunch instead of paying too much at the touristy place for crappy food. Then we went to a park to eat where Jessica had a playground to keep her occupied while we ate yummy fish & chips. We did some more stairs in the afternoon (about an hours worth) and saw some waterfalls that weren’t very impressive due to the recent drought. The scenery was stunning even without the waterfalls though. On the way back we stopped of at a local fruit market for ice cream and drinks. Michael wouldn’t let us go to the ice-cream man by the waterfalls because apparently he adjusts himself and then serves up ice-cream. We saw some kangaroos in a local park, and then stopped off briefly at the 2000 Olympics site.
We were dropped off back in Chinatown and had some mediocre Vietnamese food. Then we had to work out how to get back home without a map (which we’d forgotten) and no idea which bus to take. The bus driver was laughing at us: how did you get down here then? We finally sorted it out - thanks to Grant - and boarded the correct bus with Jessica already asleep on Daddys shoulder. Because the trains aren’t running, the bus we ended up taking dropped us a 20 minute DARK walk away from the caravan park - and, incidentally, past a graveyard and crematorium for added creepiness! I carried Jessica like a sack of potatoes all the way back . BOY do we miss that child carrier!!
Yesterday, Jessica and I gave Daddy the day off and we went to visit the woman (Angela) who gave us all those books when we arrived. We hadn’t managed to meet up with her on arrival as she was off sailing and had had a friend drop them at our hotel. We went over for the afternoon and ended up staying for dinner. What a lovely lady! She read Jessica stories and even made her a dress. Probably the only handmade thing shell ever wear, given that I can barely sew a button on! It was wonderful to meet up with her, and hopefully we’ll manage to see her again before we go.
There was a minor embarrassing moment on the train on the way over to Angelas. Jessica pointed at a large-ish man and said really loudly: Mommy, that man has a BIG FAT tummy!! On the way back, Jessica was flirting with three (really cute) Italian boys in their early twenties. If I’d known what a boy magnet she could be - I’d have had a kid before I was old and married!
Today, I sorted out the campervan to gather up all the stuff we don’t need anymore. It’s amazing all the STUFF we’ve accumulated in four months. We put together five big bags full of stuff for a local charity, and we still have a few things that we’ll get rid of last-minute. We’re all looking forward to getting out of this campervan. It’s been a good way to travel but, especially with all the rain recently, its getting a wee bit confining. Mind you, now that we’ve sent two big parcels off home, and given away so much stuff - we have a lot more room!
Coming to the end of our time in Australia, we’re really looking forward to the next few legs of our journey. I’ve managed to sort out bookings for the next few months, and were getting Jessica prepared for the Fiji portion of our trip. Her one concern: is there peanut butter in Fiji, Mommy? She’s almost fully potty trained now, so hopefully by the time we leave Fiji we’ve worked out both potty training and a change in the peanut butter sandwich diet! (No, she doesn’t exclusively eat peanut butter, but shes VERY picky about what she will eat)
Tonight, Jessica was practicing her headstands on the top bunk. Obviously, she’s been told at least a thousand times to STOP trying to stand on her head up there. Well, tonight she almost fell off and I had to rescue her from an extremely awkward position. Then she scolds me: you have to be WATCHING me, Mommy, what if I fall?
The next few days we don’t have much planned. It’s supposed to rain all week, and we have a few things to wrap up before we head off to Fiji, so we’ll likely be just hanging out in Sydney. Were planning to head to Taronga zoo for New Years Eve. We paid $444 dollars (and Jess is free) for just a seat in the bleachers. It doesn’t include zoo entry fee for the day and we don’t even get to see the animals!! No dinner, either! I had thought that it would allow us to visit the zoo during the day and then see the fireworks at night, but no such luck. Oh well, at least we won’t have to stake out a place in a crowded park all day. Rain is forecast, so hopefully the weatherman is wrong. Cross your fingers for us!!