Tag Archives: Australia

How Ya Goin’?

Greetings from Palm Cove Australia, where I am on my own in this country for the first time since arriving 18 days ago.  I am reading the guest information book in my room and under “Swimming” it says:

Crocodiles are occasionally seen off the beaches but generally they inhabit creeks and estuaries that flow into the ocean. They are ambush predators and generally do not actively hunt or expend a lot of energy in the process.

Is this supposed to make me feel safer?

Visitors are discouraged from wading in creeks, waterways and mangroves where water is shallow or knee deep. Visitors should NOT swim in the ocean at night.

I can abide by those guidelines, but apparently others cannot.  Before I left Melbourne my friends were telling me about recent croc deaths. A park ranger was fishing with her family—wading in a shallow creek.  One minute she was there, the next she was gone.  They found her dismembered body a few days later. A German tourist went swimming in a creek that had a sign warning, “NO SWIMMING—CROCODILES.”  It even had a picture of a crocodile with its mouth gaping open, for non-English speakers.  That was his last swim, ever. As I was riding into town on the hotel shuttle, I saw dozens of people fishing and wading in the creeks and mangrove swamps.  What gives? These are probably the same people who would swim in the ocean at night.

The one thing I dreaded about this trip was the 15-hour flight from LA to Sydney. I have to say, it wasn’t that bad.

I had my compression socks, eye mask, ear plugs, down pillow, crossword puzzles, and a book, which I thought might be overkill but the movie selection wasn’t great so I was glad to have it.

I did watch one really good movie, All the Money in the World, about the kidnapping of J. Paul Getty’s grandson.  It starred Michelle Williams, Mark Wahlberg, Christopher Plummer, and his grandson Charlie Plummer as the grandson.  This was the movie Kevin Spacey was cut from after his #MeToo moment.

There was an Aussie sitting next to me on the plane who was returning from a vacation in Mexico.  He raved about Mexico, took a sleeping pill, then didn’t move for 15 hours except when I shook him awake so I could go to the bathroom. It’s interesting how Mexico was exotic to him but he was dreading going back to Australia (and work).  I have spent a lot of time in Mexico and it no longer feels exotic.

And Australia—does it feel exotic?  There have been moments when I thought, “This could be Minnesota.”  Like this view of Heidi’s family’s farm:

But then there were the roos.  These photos aren’t great, but they are candid.

There are other landscapes, of giant gum (eucalyptus) trees that feel alien, in a stunningly beautiful way.

The language is English but they shorten many words (a journalist is a journo, a medic is an ambo) and so much slang that I have often found myself staring blankly at the speaker.  A newly arrived immigrant is a FOB (Fresh off the Boat) and going to hang out with your friends is hooning around.

In the UK I was thrown by the standard greeting, “Ya’ll right?”  In Australia, the greeting is “How ya goin’?” instead of, “How ya doin’?” as we would ask in the US.  Aussies really do say, “G’day”—not everywhere, but here and there and more so in the country.

People are so friendly. Yesterday when I was checking my bag at the airport, the agent told me about her favorite tour here, while hundreds of people waited behind me.  None of them seemed irritated.

Is Australia as expensive as I’d read?  It depends.  Hotels are very reasonable, while meals out are outrageously expensive, and food in groceries is somewhere in between. The American dollar is strong against the Australian, so I get to take 30% off everything.

Heidi and her family have been so welcoming.  Heidi’s Auntie Margaret gave up her flat in Sydney for us to use for a couple nights.  This is the view.  Horrible, huh?

Australia Bound

Twelve hours from now, I will be in Los Angeles waiting for my flight to Sydney. Sydney is 13 hours ahead of LA, and the flight is 15 hours long, so that means in theory I will try to stay awake as long as possible and then sleep the second half, so I will be somewhat rested when I arrive in Australia at 7:30am.

If Lynn is reading this she is probably laughing, because she knows I can barely stay up past 9pm.  But I have been slowly moving my bedtime forward in anticipation of this trip, and last night I was awake until 1:30am—probably for the first time since I was a teenager.

I downloaded an app called Timeshifter that claims to help people shift their wake/sleep schedules ahead of long-haul trips.  I just couldn’t bear the thought of staying indoors with the blinds drawn to block out the sun during the day, and drinking coffee at 3:00 in the morning.  So I deleted the app and concocted a do-it-yourself program. I’m not great at math so I may have it all backwards. I fully expect to get no sleep on the plane and arrive completely exhausted.

As is my habit—and I recommend this to anyone—I use a big trip as a deadline to really get in shape so I will have energy and strength for lifting and pulling bags and walking everywhere—and staying awake.  For the last seven weeks I set a goal for myself to swim for 45 minutes once a week, bike 20 miles a week, lift weights twice, do yoga twice, and walk two or three times.  I am happy to report I stuck to this plan so now I can let myself go.

Yesterday after work I went for a swim even though I Really Did Not Want To.  I am still a crap swimmer.  I have no endurance; rare is the instance I can do the crawl for a full pool length. I always tell myself, “It’s okay to go slow” but that gives me the sensation I am sinking.  So then I flail and thrash about and am soon winded.  I do a half dog paddle, half crawl the rest of the way, gasping for breath.

Which brings me to the What Ifs.  What if my lousy swimming is due to having undiagnosed lung cancer?  As usual, I think about all the possible things that could go wrong before or during a big trip.  This is not helped by the half dozen comments I’ve received from well-meaning people warning me about crocodiles, sharks, and poisonous things in the desert.

What about you?  Would you rather be attacked by a shark or a croc?  I’d take a shark any day.  I think it would be a quick death, whereas crocs pull you under water while you’re still alive and munch on you at their leisure.  Plus, you can punch or kick a shark and maybe they’ll back off, or at least that’s the lore.

But my mind is not limited to savage wild animal attacks.  What if I stub my toe and break it today, and the doctor says I cannot fly with a broken bone?    What if someone hacks into my bank accounts while I’m camping in the desert and cleans me out?  What if someone breaks into my house while I’m away and steals…my plants or my 10-year-old TV?

Most dreaded of all: What if my flight turns into another Malaysia Airlines Flight 370?

While all this is whirling around in my head I will carry on doing what needs to be done, including putting my plants in the bathtub so they’ll live without me for a month, fishing the goldfish out of the backyard pond and delivering them to a neighbor who has a year-round pond, calling my mother, going for a walk, packing, unplugging all my appliances, and cleaning out my car because I am renting it to someone while I’m gone.

What an exciting life I lead!  I really am fortunate.  Even if the plane does go into a death spiral over French Polynesia, I will have had a fantastic time up until then.

Broken, now Free

I thought it might be difficult to not write. After nearly 600 posts since September 2014—and many streaks of every-other-day posts, I pledged to (mostly) take the summer off from writing.

And it’s been great.  I have no problem sleeping in instead of leaping out of bed at 5:30am to knock out 700 words.

But yesterday was a big milestone, something worth writing about.  The reason I ever started this blog in the first place—my son going to prison—is gone.  Yesterday, after spending half his time in prison and half on supervised release, my son’s sentence is over. Over!  He wrote a post about it on his own blog, if you’d like to read it.  I liked this line:

“I am free to roam about the country or world as I please. I am free to register to vote, and I will. I am free to drink alcohol, and I won’t. I am still not allowed to own a gun, and I don’t care.”

For me, the low point was the day I was ejected from Moose Lake prison without seeing Vince because I was wearing a “low-cut shirt.”  Then I went off to the Middle East for work, where I got to hear stories of people being tortured in prison.  When I came home, there was a letter waiting for me, informing me I was banned from stepping foot on any correctional facility property in Minnesota for six months.

Corrections employees have nearly complete discretion, and impunity, to do whatever they want.  And so they do whatever they want.

I feel like I am walking out into the sunlight after several years under a cloud. I transitioned the blog to writing mostly about travel a while back, but I’ll still write about prison once in a while because … there are still 10s of thousands of people in prisons. I don’t just care about my son; I care about my whole community, my state, my country.

Sigh, my poor country.  What a mess we are.  It’s like a nightmare where we are all living on the Jerry Springer Show.

I had never given a thought to prison, prisoners, or people whose loved ones are in prison.  Why would I?  Prisons are far away.  You can’t go inside them without permission. Only bad people are in them, so why would you want to go inside, anyway?  And if a single mom is on her own because her man is in prison, then she and her kids are probably better off, right?

Boy, has it been an eye opener. There are some bad people in prison, for sure.  But mostly they’re regular people who messed up.  Have you ever messed up?  Of course you have.  You just didn’t do something illegal, or you didn’t get caught.

I am grateful to my son for doing the hard work it took to change his life. He had been under arrest before.  He had been homeless.  I suspected he would die early due to liver failure or a car accident or a drug deal gone wrong.

Ironically, it was prison that set him free.  He always says he needed to go to prison. So for all my idealistic fellow campaigners on prison reform, keep that in mind when you propose repurposing prisons into artists’ retreats or organic garden centers.

I have made little progress planning for Australia, except to decide that I will limit myself to Australia and not attempt to also visit New Zealand, Fiji, Borneo, or Papua New Guinea.

Heidi and I spoke for over an hour yesterday on What’s App, and we agreed it’s crunch time.  Time to figure out how we’ll get from Sydney to Melbourne, time to book flights to Tasmania and maybe a train ride to Alice Springs.  Time to book accommodations in the Red Centre.   The pressure is on.

And yet it is summer, and it’s Sunday.  I think I’ll go sit in the garden and read the paper.

The Big Bad

Today is the first day of a nine-day staycation for me. I have never taken a staycation, but I need one.  I need time to plan my sojourn in Oceania, time to enjoy solstice season while it lasts, and time to take a look at my finances to see if I can afford to move to another country.

More about that in a bit.

I had an epiphany this week.  As you know if you’ve been reading for a while, I have visited many of the world’s ancient sites.  Tikal, Petra, Machu Picchu, Stonehenge, Delphi, etc.  I have sometimes come away feeling a comforting sense of connection to all of humanity.  Deep, huh?

More often, I’ve come away thinking, “Whoever built this magnificent site is long dead, and no one knows his name.”  In some cases I may have been able to learn a name if I had dug hard enough or if there was a plaque, but I’d forget it 10 minutes later.

I used to find that sort of sad.  The lesson?  Nothing we do matters in the long run.

But this week I suddenly found it comforting.

In a thousand years, Donald Trump will be a footnote, if not forgotten. Sure, maybe there will be millions of references to him in ancient news articles on servers somewhere, but only students of the classics will be interested.

Maybe he will even become a mythical beast.  Long into the future, a mather (because by then genders will have merged) will be reading a book … no.  Someday, a mather and its child will be immersed in a virtual reality bedtime story thanks to nanoparticle thin films, and little Apple (because old fashioned names will have come back into style by then) will squeal, “Mather, please can we be in the story about the Trump?!”

“Are you sure you won’t get too frightened again?” Mather will ask.

“Yes, I’m sure!”

“Which scenario do you want—The Trump Goes a’Doddering, or Trump and the Seven Dictators, or …”

“The one with the Space Force!” cries Apple.

“The one where we can strap him to a rocket and shoot him to the moon?”
“Yes! Yes! That one!”

“Okay, but remember, dear—it’s just a story. It’s not real.”

If only it weren’t. This regime is causing a lot of human suffering but in the long run, it will be consigned to “the dustbin of history” like others before it.

So in addition to planning a long trip to Australia, I’ve been researching ways to live outside the US.  This book has been really helpful.  It was published in 2012 so it’s somewhat dated, but it’s giving me lots of food for thought and helping me narrow down my choices.

I got this in the mail this week.

Europe?  How about America?  And being Jewish eliminates a half dozen of the 60 countries profiled in the book.  Caring about human rights, not being rich, being environmentally conscious, wanting access to health care, being able to get back to Minnesota within 24 hours, etc. all are helping me narrow it down.

I have two routes to acquire long-term visas:

  • Many countries have retirement visas. You don’t necessarily have to be anywhere near retirement age; you have to show that you meet some minimum threshold of income. The idea is, you won’t be taking a job away from a local resident and you’ll be spending money in the country on rent, food, etc.  The cost of living is multiples lower than that in the US.
  • Working remotely. As I did last summer in Britain, I can continue to work and be paid by my US employer if they allow it. Again, I wouldn’t be taking a local job and I’d be spending money locally.  The rules about this are much murkier, maybe because working remotely is still a new concept to rusty bureaucracies.

Frommer’s “easy” guide to Australia is 317 pages long.

I haven’t made much progress except I did start swimming lessons so I can get scuba certified.  Heidi has warned me however, about “stinger season near the reef and crocodile season in the centre.”

At least there won’t be any Trumps.

Going Down

I’m going to reduce my blogging for the summer to one post a week.  It’s summer in Minnesota, which is very sweet, and very fleeting.

In addition, I’ve just got permission to work remotely again, like I did in the UK last year, and I need planning time.

My friend Heidi, who I met in London in 2007, is now back in Australia caring for her parents.  What a great opportunity to spend time with her in her home environment and see Australia through her eyes.  She lived in London for almost two decades and traveled extensively around Europe and North America, so she’s got perspective, too.

As long as I am going all that way, it seemed logical to try to stay a while, to wander around Australia, New Zealand, maybe Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga …

I’ve been mostly stockpiling my vacation time since last summer.  It’s easier not to use it because I work 90% time, which works out to two unpaid days off per month.  When I went to Colombia I only had to use three vacation days.

Now that our busy proposal season is winding down at work, I’ve reduced my hours to 80%. One of the benefits of working for a non-profit is that they’re always looking for ways to save money.  Allowing an employee to work less—someone they know is responsible and will still get her work done within reduced hours—is a win-win.

So I’ll be gone seven weeks, working one day a week on average to keep on top of things, to keep things moving that need my attention.

As I’ve written before, I can only afford to do this because I have no debt and I live cheaply.  This wasn’t always true—until about 10 years ago I had student loans, a car loan, a mortgage payment, and a credit card balance.  If there’s one thing to prioritize in your financial life, it’s paying off as much debt as possible.  It may seem insurmountable at the beginning; it did to me.  It took years.  It requires sacrifices.  But it can be done.  And what a feeling of liberation.

I’d like to claim I paid off my mortgage.  I didn’t.  I sold my condo, I pay rent now, and that will never go away.  But I am lucky to have found a nice place with very reasonable rent. It’s not in a premium location.  The commute sucks. I don’t have off street parking.  But hey, I just bought a round-trip ticket to Sydney!

Still, Australia is expensive and Oceania is vast. The Australia guide book I got from the library is two inches thick.  I need time this summer to plan ahead, string out purchases of bus or train fares, airfares, lodging, and tours.  Heidi and I spent an hour workshopping on What’s App last weekend.  She’ll have a two-week break from teaching, and we’ll go to Melbourne to visit some other London friends who teach at an Aboriginal Girls’ School.

What should I do in the remaining five weeks?

My head is swirling.  Should I rent a car?  I have a phobia of driving on the other side of the road.  The guide says trains are expensive. But Heidi says they’re not any more expensive than in the UK.  A co-worker advised that New Zealand deserves at least two weeks, and that’s just the south island.  I have a Kiwi friend who lives in France and she’s putting me in touch with her brother who lives in Nelson and might put me up.  A Minnesota friend, has a cousin who runs a resort on Tonga.  Should I go there?

I’ve spent hours trolling Responsible Travel’s website.  They’ve got a budget vacation where you can swim with humpback whales in Tonga.  Dang.  I don’t know how to swim.  I spend a week day dreaming about taking a freighter around French Polynesia.  Oops, it’s 6,000 miles from Sydney to Tahiti, where that trip starts.  Maybe a yoga retreat in Fiji?  But all the photos show women who look like Athleta models.

I was glad to see that Responsible Travel offers plastic-free holidays.

If you have suggestions, please share!