Australia trip, week 1

Before we left.

I cannot begin to describe how much fun I'm having. The thought of never coming back has crossed my mind more than once! However, the cost of living here is 1/3 to ½ more than it is back home, and no amount of perfect weather could make up for being broke all the time for the rest of my life. And it hasn't always been perfect weather! As I begin to write this, we're north of the tropic of Capricorn, and it's hot and humid like nobody's business. That being said, today we snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef, and it was a life altering experience. Imagine that instead of looking at a TV sized aquarium, the aquarium was all around you, a 360 degree panorama. Truly incredible!

And where we have robins and crows, they have magpies, kookaburras, and these awesome parrots just living everywhere. If I've ever seen them before, they were behind wire or glass in some zoo. Here, they're on power lines and walking on lawns. It’s amazing. And yesterday I hazarded driving about (on the “wrong” side of the road) on a trip to the beach. We were driving around some people's houses along the beach, and there was this three foot lizard walking on the lawn, just like a house cat might do back in our part of the world. Did I use the word “amazing” already? One tends to run out of superlatives. Talking about how wonderful it's been will be a recurring theme throughout this missive, so you'd just better get used to it.

But first a dedication: This trip would not have been possible, nor half as enjoyable, had it not been for a one off essay I wrote in 1996 about, of all things, Dalmatians. Somebody else who had such a dog noticed what I wrote, wrote back to me, and we have continued writing back and forth ever since. That person and her family have visited us a couple of times since then, yet they grew ever more indignant that we'd not come to visit them yet. This trip has taken care of that obligation and then some. So a big hearty thank you to Liz, Stuart, and Carys for inviting us, entertaining us, and putting up with us. Really, this is above and beyond the call of duty folks. I can't begin to thank you enough...

Make no mistake about it: Australia is the other side of the world, and it takes a long time to get here. The east coast of the continent was pretty much discovered by the same Captain Cook that also explored the west coast of the U.S., including the area where we normally live. The reports that came back stated that the land was most promising: rich dark earth most excellent for growing crops, plentiful water, and friendly natives. The fact that none of these things were true wasn't discovered until later. Until the American Revolution, England had been using its erstwhile North American colony to deposit the scum of London's criminal underclass. After the revolution, they could no longer do that, and other places needed to be found, and quickly. Discovered only a few years before, Australia seemed just the place. The first fleet of convict ships took eight months to reach Australia. Our airplane flight to get here was about 17 hours, and we arrived in much better shape than the average deportee.

The first adventure we had happened before we even left the airport. We had left on a Friday night and had arrived on Sunday afternoon, losing a day to the crossing of the date line. (There was no ceremony for crossing the equator. Old man Neptune never did arrive to play pranks on us, and most of us on the plane were asleep at the time.) I believe Stuart was pushing a cart with all of our luggage on it, and I was carrying the ukuleles in my arms while looking around at the strange new landscape. The land was green and flat, and the light was somehow different. However, the increased light did not prevent me from stumbling over a bollard, nearly castrating myself in the process. Welcome to Australia! Was our first visit to be to the emergency room? It was not to be. The only thing truly wounded was my pride...

The Jones' live in a suburb of Adelaide, and it took a while to get there, but upon arriving, I was handed a beer. I was going to live after all! That evening we had a grilling of several substances that made us feel most welcome. Jet lag is easier to overcome going east to west, and we managed to stay up and chat until late in the evening.

The next day, March 7th, was wonderful. Liz took the day off of work and took us to the South Australian Museum, which was mostly a museum of natural history. The first floor was an exhibit of Aboriginal artifacts, evidence of a lost culture. The Aboriginal peoples of Australia have been here for maybe 60,000 years, four times as long as people had been in Europe, and when the Europeans arrived, they had a better standard of living and nutrition than the new comers. They managed to exist in a harsh land by living nomadically, hunting and gathering the resources of an area before moving to the next. It was primitive in the extreme, but it had worked for thousands of years. They've since been practically wiped out, living a much harder existence than our own North American natives, and for much of the same reasons. Homelessness, poverty and addictions have moved them to the margins of modern society. I don't even think that I've seen any, except for those sleeping rough in the parks. A proud people brought low. People who live here now don't agree, firm in the belief that the native peoples somehow don't exist, and therefore can be ignored.

Other floors of the museum discussed the geology of Southern Australia, including several actual meteors that had fallen locally. Imagine a chunk of pockmarked iron had fallen from the sky, near a culture that had no knowledge of metal at all. It would have seemed like magic.

Other exhibits had stuffed wildlife in different habitats, mostly birds, snakes, insects, rodents, and the native marsupials. They looked all exotic behind glass, but we've seen many since then, wandering in people's back yards. The exotic has become commonplace.

Another exhibit showed minerals and gems from the world and also local specimens. We've chosen to concentrate on opals on this trip because the world’s best examples of this gem come from here. There was a fossilized fish spinal column whose vertebra had become opalized, segment upon segment. The gems are rare enough, but this fish had gone precious jewel.

Across the street from the SAM (and tomorrow's art museum) is the Rundle mall, a street that had been blocked off and was now a pedestrian friendly shopping area. C and I each bought hats, got chocolate, and wandered about. Stuart met us after his work (which is in a building just off the mall street), and we sat and watched the free stage of acts that were to appear in the Adelaide Fringe Festival, which was taking place nearby. Two of the acts could charitably be classified as “lame”, (what C describes as a “bad clown”, and a “bad magician”) but one of the acts was embarrassingly funny. Imagine an Eastern European duo dressed up, him in his mid-seventies disco finest with an Elvis haircut, and her, a little plump in a way too short skirt. Their “act”, entitled “SexyTime” was each of them dancing, with his dance being a lot of posing like he was lifting tremendous weights or posing body builder style, while her “dancing” involved floor gymnastics more suitable for girls half her age and a third of her weight. What made it funny was her stage patter (he was silent), and the jokes. As her skirt hiked up one time too many, after her dance she said that, as she was wearing two pairs of underwear, it was a G-rated show. Did I mention embarrassingly funny?

Between acts, Stuart and I ducked into a musical instrument store. More on that tomorrow.

March 8th: This was another wonderful day. We were left to our own devices, as the Jones' had to go make a living. We were greeted by unseasonable weather, a warm rain arriving to greet us for the next two days.

A note about being “foreign”. In my part of the world, we notice people that have unusual accents. In this place, we're the ones that stand out, as we’re the ones that talk funny, and we announce our presence wherever we go. So of course we chat up the bus driver as we fumble with the money to pay the fare, and asking for instructions as to what to do with the ticket that we've been given. It's more than obvious that “y'all ain't from around here, are ya?” That quote comes from our trip to Louisiana, but the people here are lovely. We'd been standing in the warm rain for perhaps 15 minutes, and after some polite inquiries as to where we're from, and after noticing that we'd been standing in the rain, the woman in the seat next to ours smiled and said, “Then welcome to sunny Australia!” It was a beautiful thing.

A word about the people here. I have seen nothing but politeness from each and every (sober) person that I've encountered. We had two immediate encounters while we were in the airport in Melbourne waiting for our flight to Adelaide. In the first, I was pushing a cart up an escalator type ramp moving from a lower level to an upper floor when the single front wheel of the cart got jammed. That was a problem compounded by the fact that the ramp was not moving, as some unsupervised children had hit the emergency stop button some minutes earlier. So here I am struggling to push this crippled cart up this steep ass ramp when out of the blue, somebody begins to help me push the cart. It would have been a real short vacation had I had a heart attack there in the airport, but some nameless person just stepped up to help me. Amazing...

The second happened a few minutes later. The queues at the airport security stations are typically big mazes of ribbon between posts designed to hold a lot of people in a small area. One girl leading her friends had come up to the side of this area and ducked under the ribbon. The next friend stopped to hold the ribbon for the remainder of that group of young people. Meanwhile, some older people had come through the maze to the point where the ribbon was raised, and there they stood, waiting patiently for the rest of the young people to cut in line in front of them. No rolling of the eyes, no exasperated sighs, just patience. Again amazing.

As a third example, I often saw young people giving up their seats on the bus for people older or more frail than themselves, doing so willingly without being asked, something that I'd never seen in my own country.

On this day we went to the art museum which was located next to the natural history museum. I wasn't so impressed with this museum, as it was similar to most every other art museum in the world. C enjoyed herself though, and in the end, that's all that matters. We did see examples of Australian Impressionism, which I believe is something that couldn't be seen anywhere else in the world. The galleries were somewhat crammed together, as there was renovation elsewhere in the museum. The result was that the galleries didn't flow well together, with the aforementioned Australian Impressionism room right next to the modern art room which was right next to the 15th century religious icon styles. It was somewhat jarring, and I thought that the mannequin holding the laundry basket didn't fit well with the pastoral scenes of rural Australia. It was also hard to concentrate on the visuals whilst the saws and jackhammers behind a closed door banged away.

Again across the street to the Rundle mall where C and I ducked into the music shop that Stuart and I had been in the previous day. We bought the cheapest ukulele we could find, a blazing purple number that looks black in the dark light. We gave this to the Jones', and got Liz to practice for a couple of hours. Then the adventure continued.

It's getting so that you can't swing a cat anywhere in the world without hitting a ukulele group, and Australia, while a big country, is no exception. The Adelaide Ukulele Appreciation Society meets weekly at a pub in the port section of Adelaide. Now my big group meets in an old Catholic school. The group that I started meets in a coffee shop. However, I heartily recommend gathering in a pub for a ukulele group. Inhibitions are done away with after the first drink. In any case, we were there on workshop night, where the group meets to learn a new song (in this case a more traditional version of “Over the Rainbow” to which they tried to stick the Israel version of the song as a second verse, but without writing out the different chord progression that they tried to add on by memory) before breaking up into perhaps 5 different groups. These groups then go off and each learn a different song. After an hour or so of practice they come back to the stage area and perform the song they've worked on for other members of the other groups. They were often more enthusiastic than talented, but they thoroughly enjoyed themselves, and that's what really counts. Liz even played with the song circle, even though she only knew one chord, playing it lustfully every time that chord came around!

March 9th. Another wonderful day. It was still raining (but it's a warm rain, so don't bring a rain jacket like I did!) so we made our way to the next bus stop, passing a Salvo Op Shop on the way. A bit of translation is needed here. The Salvos are the Salvation Army, and what they call an Op Shop we would call a Thrift Store, and C managed to buy a plate and some clothes which I had to carry around for the rest of the day. Again, lots of discussion as to where we're from. The Australians, ever so polite, never ask, “Oh, are you Americans?” Instead, they ask, again politely, “So, where are you from then?” It turns out that, first, not many Americans come to their country. I bet not many Americans could find Australia on a map. Second, Canadians hate being mistaken for Americans, and Australians are too polite a people to intentionally insult anybody. And I can't say as I blame the Canadians. After all, Canada hasn't made it their business to bomb the shit out of any country they please as a matter of course. I've been trying to avoid discussing the failures of American Foreign Policy, and for the most part I've been successful. I don't blame the Canadians for not wanting to be mistaken for Americans. We are not particularly popular in the world. For a while we were collecting handy guides for telling the citizens of the two countries apart. Napkins vs. serviettes. That sort of thing...

The bus drops us off (again) at the mall, and this was our day for the Adelaide zoo. As zoos go, this one was fairly small, but clean, and old too, maybe 150 years old. There was a metal pavilion that had been donated by some big wig in 1888. At that time, Seattle was a city of tents and their zoo was many years in the future. The big thing at the zoo right now is a male and female panda pair, on loan from China. The zoo was set up for long lines of people queued up to see them, but we were there on a weekday, and went right up to the enclosures. But not before I saw the spider.

No doubt there are dangerous creatures in my part of the world. On the other side of the mountains one might encounter poisonous snakes. We have our own nasty spiders that can give you a serious fanging if they're determined to give you a particularly bad day. Farther away there are bears that can ruin your afternoon, and some wild dogs, or at least feral dogs or maybe pit bull dog packs that can maul or even kill. But nobody does dangerous animals like Australian. So C and I are walking towards the panda encounter and I look up into a tree and I see the biggest spider I've ever seen in my life. Or at least that's how I remember it. Its abdomen was the size of my thumb, and it was just hanging there in a tree off the trail. The webs of spiders here seem pretty primitive, almost having the thickness and look of string, and there this one was in a tree, head down, looking for unwary tourists. At my zoos, things like that are behind glass. I'm pretty sure this wasn't an exhibit, but instead just a random critter that just happened to be living within the zoo. I tell people that I saw a spider as big as my hat. That is something of an exaggeration, but not by much.

Zoos are zoos pretty much everywhere. The ones in my neck of the woods have animals from Australia (among other places) as well as some of the local animals. This one had more of a pan-Asian theme, with lots of local animals as well as many from Indonesia and other places in south Asia. They had no animals from North America. (The natural history museum had some stuffed animals from different regions of the world, including North America, but we were reduced to pretty much a bear, a beaver, a squirrel and a moose. Not even a half-dozen animals.) They did have cancer free Devils from Tasmania, hoping to use these animals to repopulate the islands should the species kill itself off with that horrible contagious face cancer that they get. The nocturnal house had bats that actually flew around, including a sign indicating that there was a baby bat in the enclosure. We watched the meerkats fighting most amusingly over raw chicken legs, and we saw giraffes running in their enclosure. We even saw lions cavorting about. Where we are, we hardly ever seen the zoo animals moving! There were lots of colorful birds from around Asia. They also had a small aquatic enclosure with a single sea lion from Kangaroo Island, similar to the one that Liz had an encounter with a few months ago. It seems that it was more than curious about her as she boogie boarded at her favorite beach, and it was more than a bit aggressive. So much so that she had to defend herself with her board. She would probably be glad to see this one behind bars.

There was another cool building where kids were supposed to learn about being stewards of the land. There was a tape of people talking about how the Murray River (alternately named the River Murray) affected their lives and childhoods. There was an interesting interactive thing where five large tiles, perhaps a foot on a side, were lined up on a sensor. Each tile had an example of something that a human (here known as Average Jo) might do. At one end of the scale on things to do shown on a tile was take a short shower, play sport, or read a book. At the other end of the scale were things like take a long shower, drive a big car, take a long airplane ride, or have a kid. After placing the tiles, you pushed a button and a small animation played, showing the affects of the chosen behaviors on your Happiness, your Wealth, and your affects on the environment. Just to skew the score, I took a long shower and a long airplane ride, and I had three kids. Wealth and environmental impact hit the most negative point on the scale, but somehow the happiness meter had a high score. C says that because the display is for kids, they wouldn't show the truth about having kids and how it might affect your real happiness. I think that I know better...

While the zoo was great, we had other things to do that day. We left the zoo and walked past the campus of the university downtown. This particular walk had memorials to the various units that had participated in the wars that Australia had been called on to join. I'll say it right here: Australians are very aware of the sacrifices that war asks of its citizens. Every small town that we've driven through has a memorial park commemorating the local boys (and sometimes girls, and sometimes horses) that have served their country, often giving the ultimate sacrifice in wartime. The siege of Gallipoli was a great uniting force for both Australia and New Zealand, as these happened just after these places became more or less independent countries, separate from the England that had spawned them. Each of these memorials in each of these towns declares that we who live will never forget the sacrifices of those who had come before. If only my country could remember the cost of conflict, they might not be so casual about imposing their will on the far corners of the planet.

We were tired. We'd walked all day around the zoo, and we were now walking around the mall, waiting to connect with the Jones'. The call came to meet us by the corner with the Hungry Jacks, the Australian version of Burger King. I continue to apologize to C for taking her to the wrong end of the mall. After that, I thought that I was going to have to carry her to the other end.

We finally got to the right end of the mall and met Stuart, but we had to continue to walk to where Liz and Carys were waiting. Can we sit now please? While we could sit on the sidewalk with tables as part of the cafe, and while we could drink beer and wine just like it was inside the restaurant, it was noisier than all get out, between the street traffic and the jackhammer deconstruction happening across the street. I accepted any excuse to leave.

Liz and C stayed behind to drink more wine and chat (presumably about their men-folk) while Stuart, Carys, and I went to the Adelaide Fringe Festival. A public park had been fenced off, and bags were inspected upon entry to keep you from bringing your own alcohol into the park. It's not that alcohol wasn't allowed, but that you had to buy it from the vendors that had paid for concessions in the festival. Tickets to see the entertainment were cheap, only ten Au$, but based on what we had seen at the free stage, we declined to see any of the acts. Instead, we put Carys inside a big inflatable plastic ball and watched her while she floated inside the ball in a large inflatable pool. It was like a hamster ball floating on water. Other people in other balls also floated and tumbled in the water, and were often shoved about by the people working the concession. Carys also rode a horizontal spinning ride, and bounced up and down a bungee thing that was attached to a safety harness. The Aussies take a much more relaxed attitude towards personal safety. There were booths selling fair crap, but none of it interested us (except that I imagined C in one of the knitted bikinis that were for sale, but I declined to purchase one), so we went back and met the ladies, and proceeded home.

March 10th. Another wonderful day. The bus ride into town was fairly uneventful. As it was raining (again!), we stopped at the Salvos (again!) and C bought some more plates (again!) which I had to carry the rest of the day (again!), as well as our ukuleles. As had happened the previous day, we caught the bus when there was to be a change of driver to take place, and we started chatting up the person who was waiting to begin his shift as the new driver. His was an interesting story. Now Aussie accents are hard enough for me to understand as it is, what with me going deaf and all, but this fellow was at another level entirely. From what we gathered, he had been abandoned as a child in Brazil at all of two days old, and he grew up with a determination to make something of himself, using the story of Axel Rose, of all people, as inspiration. I told him that all I knew of Axel was him trying to provoke a fight with Courtney Love, and in general being a bad boy. He proceeded to tell us that he had read Slash's biography that explained that Axel was trying to provoke that fight because he loved Kurt Cobain's music so much. I remain unconvinced, but I'll stay open to the possibility. He gestured to a sticker on his driver's box on which he had a Guns 'n Roses sticker, pointing out how each of the two roses there was somehow symbolic to his struggles. This fellow, whose name I never did catch, loved America, and it was his ambition to visit, and to drive a pick-up truck around the desert southwest. He had cowboy boots at home, and a cowboy hat with a rattlesnake head around the crown. It was kind of touching really. I hope he gets his wish.

The bus arrived, and I even gave up my seat so somebody else could sit down. This politeness thing could be contagious. The target of our travels on this day was a small suburb called Glenelg, a palindromic city name if there ever was one. It was the site of the landing of the original settlers to this area. Unlike the people who were being sent to Sydney, this area had been founded by people who had chosen to come, signing up and paying for passage to this place in Southern Australia. The beach proved too shallow to support the arrival and cargo transfer of large ships, so when the main settlement moved to a more appropriate spot, poor little Glenelg became a backwater, even after building a “jetty” which we would call a pier, to facilitate the transfer of cargo. This did not lead to the creation of the big city that the founders wished. Many years later they built an amusement park to lure holiday travel to the beach. And like the amusement park that used to exist in Seattle, (and like the one that still exists in Sydney!) they called theirs Luna Park. A small museum at the dockside of the “jetty” explained the travails of travel of the settlers from “Old Blighty”, as well as the history of the park, and of people from this area who had gone on to bigger and better things. One cool exhibit showed many of the items that divers had scooped up using underwater vacuum systems around the “jetty”. Glass bottles, buttons, rings, pens, glasses (both drinking and wearing), guns and ammunition, bottles, toys, jewelry, toys, nails, and more were on display. We had played our ukuleles on a bench before going into the interpretive center, and the volunteers who worked there were kind enough to watch them while we wandered.

As bad experiences go, the two we had this day were pretty tame, but they stand out in my mind for that very reason. Just after we had boarded the bus downtown headed to Glenelg, we saw an altercation where, as I remember and interpret it, we saw an Aboriginal adult male, apparently intoxicated, get into an argument with a security guard. I suspect that this person had been belligerent inside a store and had been asked to leave, and was more than reluctant to do so. The raised voices and attempts to restrain the man were the most violence we'd seen since we'd been here. I think that bus passengers were kind of surprised too, as most people turned to stare, not unlike how one might stare at a car accident on the side of the road. In my country there might have been real violence, but I suspect that this event ended without bloodshed or beatings. The other semi-ugly thing was a vacant-eyed kid who came up to us asking for money while we were playing our instruments near the jetty. He looked strung out, and even though he asked us for money for bus fare, he mumbled it in such a way that we had no idea what the hell he was asking for. He eventually got tired of waiting for us to figure out what he was saying and wandered off to beg from somebody else. So there is ugliness here, but it's nowhere near in proportion to my own country.

We saw the water off the coast, but we never went to the beach there. And while we took the bus from Adelaide to Glenelg (and being real unsure that we were going the right way!), we took the tram back. Not quite a train, it would be similar to the new light rail system recently running in Seattle, but it could never be called a subway, as it never actually went underground. It is the remnant of a system that used to take tourists from the city to the amusement park. We got off at a stop near a statue of Queen Victoria, and Liz picked us up after a short wait.

That night I treated us to dinner at Grumpy's Brewhaus, a wood fired pizza and micro-brew joint in Verdun. (Did I mention that they don't forget their battles? Verdun was named after the WWI battlefield.) The pizza was OK, but the beer was cold and fairly good. My favorite was a bitter, but the pale ale and a German type lager were good as well. I told Mr. Grumpy (not his real name) so, and it pleased him enough that he gave me a stubby cover, an essential bit of equipment when drinking beer out of bottles in a hot and humid country. Properly equipped, I was able to leave the establishment, but not before petting the biggest house cat I'd ever seen in my life.

Our host family, the Jones', have a dog (Lucy, a Jack Russell terrier (what were they thinking?)), Bella, a tiny little female kitten that now might be three months old, Pickle, a more mature tortoise shell female of normal size, and Ominous, an all gray tomcat of impressive stature. All three are lover cats (while the dog was simply content to sleep on us in the night), but we never had Ominous sleep with us, which is just as well. He is big, maybe 15 pounds, and not in a fat way, but as in a small dog way. But this cat at the pizza joint was something else entirely. He might have come in at 20-22 lbs, or as they might say here, 10 kilos, and it wasn't fat either. We'd seen a cerval cat at the zoo earlier, and other than their colorings, they were remarkably similar in size and appearance. This boy was huge! We had to leave him there, as he would not have fit in the carry on luggage space allowed to us.

Jack Russell Terror.

March 11th. Another wonderful day, and perhaps the best birthday experience in the history of birthdays. For C anyway. Liz took the day off and drove us out into the country. Our original plan was to body board in or near Encounter Bay, a place where an early English ship mapping and exploring the Southern coast came across a French ship doing the same, but coming from the other direction. Even though the two countries were technically at war at the time, each ship exchanged maps and botanic samples, and allowed the other to continue on their way in peach. (Edit months later: Peach? What is this peach that should be peace? Weird...) This was also the beach where Liz had tried to feed herself to the sea lion on a previous visit. The surf was rubbish (an Australianism / Englishism that I've picked up) so we continued our driving through the local interior. While on that drive we stopped in at a little “town” in the proverbial middle of nowhere so Liz could show us her space in an antique mall. She and C proceeded to shop the town of Strathalbyn out, including one store that sold antiques as well as didgeridoos, which the proprietor made and was glad to demonstrate. Herman the German’s only reluctance was that he had just had a lunch of a big bowl of noodles, an act that could have had disastrous consequences had it gone even slightly wrong. It didn't, and he proceeded to play a couple of the instruments in his possession, including one that was taller than me, and bigger around than me at its base formed from the root system, if such a thing can be imagined. He proceeded to make a tremendous variation of sounds out of that one and a couple of others. Pretty fly for a white guy, but I was told days later that the best didgeridoo players aren't necessarily aboriginal.

We left that town and went to this dodgy little privately owned wildlife park nearby. This place had perhaps a hundred kangaroos of various sizes and ages scattered throughout the grounds. While I had purchased admission for the three of us, Liz bought bags of food that we got to feed to the kangaroos. This was quite amazing. The biggest one was able to look me in the eye, and yet was quite gentle, albeit persistent, in his demand for the food. Marked on the kangaroo report cards for all grades is the note: “Does not play well with others”. They didn't fight so much, but there was a lot of elbowing out of the way, with the biggest ones doing most of the pushing. I wound up with some scratches on my forearm, belly, and legs as they tried to pull me towards feeding them, and not the other guy. Being the kind of people we are, we tried to feed the mothers with the big joey babies sticking out of their bellies. We even watched as one of these very large babies slowly crawled back into its mother's pouch, even though the mother wasn't that much larger than the baby she carried. It looked damned uncomfortable, in that the baby didn't even fit all the way in, a pair of giant feet poking out of the pouch.

This zoo had its share of birds in cages and birds on the ground. A reptile house had some extremely venomous snakes, thankfully behind glass. The biggest reptiles were the freshwater crocodiles, and their much larger cousin the saltwater crocodiles, held in an enclosure sequestered from us by not much more than a short, albeit strong, fence. A person, however particularly foolish, could reach over the fence and touch the croc. Possible, yet stupid. The salties are particularly dangerous still, as we would hear about in a few more days.

The highlight of this trip, in fact our whole reason for going to this zoo in the first place, was the petting of the koalas. They eat nothing but eucalyptus leaves, so they aren't much of a threat to eat you, but I understand that they can be a bit cantankerous. And with sharp claws and two thumbs (I read this and imagined that they had a thumb on each side of their hand, but really they just have two thumbs on the one side) on each hand, they could be a problem. These koalas, on the other hand, were not so inclined. In fact, I asked what happens when people don't pet the animals for a day, and I was told that they become very sad koalas. We then each took a turn making sad koala faces. We didn't pet them near their mouths, for they were quite busy eating, but we did stroke them on their backs. Their ribs seem more like solid plate instead of individual bones and their fur is both softer and rougher than it looks, being both smooth and thick.

After the feeding and petting of the koalas came the holding of the snake. The keeper opened up a pillow case and produced a 6 foot Burmese Python, and asked if anybody wanted to hold it. I said, sure, but first asked if they were a constrictor type snake. I didn't want to take too many chances you see. You don't hold them as much as support them, allowing them to move away as they see fit. And I'm proud of C. She didn't want to hold the snake, but she did hold it under its ribs for a bit, feeling them pulse as the snake locomoted forward. Unfortunately the direction of that locomotion was up and into Liz's hair, and she did not approve. End of snake encounter.

From there we headed to the Jones’ abode, stopping first at a grocery store where we purchased a peculiar dessert called a Pavlova. Named after the ballerina from back in the day, it wasn't much more than a meringue, seemingly mostly egg white, sugar, and air. I made a joke about how it was a mix of sugar and Styrofoam, a joke that wasn't well received. The addition of some fresh fruit and a few candles made a most excellent birthday cake for C, and I thought she shed a tear or two.

Pavlova, all dressed up.

March 12th. Another wonderful day, this time spent driving in the country with the Jones'. Who knew that Australia had a wine making region, and a quite good one at that? Apparently back in the day there were many European immigrants who brought both their knowledge and their root stocks with them from the old country. We tasted many wines that day made with grapes that I'd never even heard of. We also stopped in at the grounds run by one Maggie Beer, who was described to us as the Martha Stewart of Australia. We later decided that that description wasn't quite accurate or fair. From her little spread in South Australia selling bird meat pate, she now owns and supervises the creation of a lot of food products. In fact we had bought some Maggie Beer brand ice cream the previous day when we bought the Pavlova. From her showcase farm (available for weddings!) we bought some mushroom and pheasant pate, some shredded chicken meat, some bread and some cheese. Then we went to the mausoleum of the ancient patriarch of a nearby winery for a picnic lunch, the site of which had been chosen by said patriarch for its commanding view on a hill. While there, Liz used my knife to dig up some plant bulbs that were growing around the mausoleum. Remember evil spirits: she done it. Then we went to the winery of said patriarch. They didn't have the best wines, but they were crowded none the less. We kept encountering these same two bridal parties, with maybe twenty well dressed young women cruising the wine country on a chartered bus, not so quietly getting snockered. I guess that they were following us from Maggie's where we had first seen them.

We snuck down an unauthorized passage and saw where they were making fleur wine, an involved process where a secondary fermentation that coats the inside of the storage barrel as well as the surface of the wine with a mold like float. We also saw the storage room where they kept the silver trophies that their wines had won over the years. The Aussies are big on silver trophies and plates. This winery had a bunch of such awards, and we'd seen others about, including some back at the art museum. But all we bought at this winery was coffee and chocolate.

My favorite wine came from the next place we went to. Instead of being crowded, we were the only ones there. I actually bought a bottle (since consumed) of sparkling Moscato Rosa from the Grant Burge winery. Sweet and sparkley, it dances (or I should say danced) on the tongue. The Jones' bought a half case of a wine that Liz and I liked as well.

Our last stop was another winery where we had been promised access to two Dalmatian puppies. The dogs never materialized, but we did see a little spotted cross at the base of one tree where somebody's beloved dog resides for all eternity. They also had a book of pictures of dogs from a bunch of other Australian wineries. There were a lot of wineries and a lot of dogs. Who knew? The young woman serving the samples was most friendly, and told us that her ambition was to marry into a winery owning family. Now that's a career path we can all get behind!

We also hit every Op Shop and antique shop in the Barossa Valley. We even went to the rummage sale that the local Lions club put up to raise money for their charities. C wound up buying the entire inventory of receipts and bills from some turn of the (last) century social society. The International Order of Odd Fellows ran some sort of employment insurance deal that you paid into and that would pay you back if you took sick and couldn't work. It's an interesting collection of documents, but I wasn’t sure how we we're going to get them all back home...

March 13th. Another wonderful day, or mostly so anyway, and our last full day in Adelaide for this leg of the journey. I think that Stuart wanted to catch up on work or something, and the women wanted to shop at this indoor swap market type thing. It's held inside this large building, probably an old warehouse or something, and it was a lot of independent merchants selling swap meet type of crap. While they did that, I went for a walk in the neighborhood.

Most of Adelaide is pretty nice, but apparently I was in one section of town that wasn't. It wasn't so much a poor neighborhood as former dockside warehouses, this market being located right against the river in the port that stole away Glenelg's business. Apparently it's better than it used to be, but there wasn't much to recommend the town from this perspective. I was told that it did have a maritime museum, a railroad museum, and a military aircraft museum of some sort down one street, as well as a micro-brewery on a parallel street, so I headed that way, and I started to cut through a parking lot next to the police building. Not a lot full of cop cars, but more a lot full of cop's cars. Sure enough one cop that had just pulled up asked me, in a very cop voice, what I was doing there. I told him that I was walking through the lot to get to the other side. He told me that, no, I couldn't do that, and that I would have to go around. Apparently all cops the world over sound just like that. I was just walking through a lot, and it was assumed that I was up to no good. Not wanting to argue (or to get my head bashed in), I turned around and went around the “block”. Apparently they grow those big around there. I went far into the warehouse district, much farther than I wanted to. I was able to cross and come about, passing the other side of the lot that I tried to cut through. There was no gate or fence. Had I not been turned around for my presumed nefariousness, I could have saved a lot of foot leather. Being sent that way did show me something unusual though. I passed by something of a junk yard with a unique twist. In my country, junk yards are often protected by junk yard dogs. This junk yard was protected by junk yard goats, two of them in fact. Maybe they kept the snake population down or something. I did finally find the micro-brewery, but they were closed, and wouldn't be open until after 2, and I had some place to be by then.

Liz had to go to work, so C and I arranged to have Stuart pick us up at the maritime museum, after our voyage on the “scenic river dolphin cruise”. I use the quote marks for a reason. The river is really more of an estuary that empties into the sea around an outpost of land forming an island, so while it's actually a river, it's also part of the ocean. I thought that this cruise would go out of this little inlet and into the ocean, pick up speed and show us some river dolphins along side the boat. No such luck. In what turned out to be the most disappointing event that I encountered in Australia, this big ass tour boat not quite full of people (who also didn't know any better) went quite slowly up the “river”, then turned around and came back, again, quite slowly.

Now I've been on some tour boats in my day, and this was hands down the worst one that I've ever been on. While we did pass the sailing club and we did watch some small sailboats practicing turns, the most picturesque thing we saw was the cement plant and its corresponding mountain of chemicals, as well as the spewing of its effluent into the river. In the river dolphin exhibit in the maritime museum they mentioned how the dolphins were coming back now that they had begun to clean up the river. Apparently this cement plant hadn't gotten the memo. It looked nasty. There was also some sort of petroleum tank farm and a couple of other factory type things, but nothing that I'd call scenic, unless you are into post-apocalyptic landscapes. We did see a river dolphin though: just as the boat docked and before we'd gotten off the boat. A cool thing to see, but after the nasty landscape, it just didn't thrill me. If you're looking for cool things to do in Adelaide, skip this trip. It wasn't expensive, but that's the only selling point.

The maritime museum was kind of cool though. There were lots of stories and artifacts about the many sunken and beached ships that had foundered in the waters around Adelaide. There was also a pretty cool exhibit about the lodgings available to the people who were immigrating to Australia over the years, voluntarily and otherwise. I don't think that the experience of the convicts was well represented, as that was not the experience of the people coming to Adelaide, but there was a display of the passenger berths for the earliest volunteer settlers. It still must have been a horrific journey. And while cabins for later generations of immigrants got better over the years, and the time taken for the voyages decreased as well, it never was particularly luxurious unless you had the money to travel in the upper class berths.

I'd thought that we might have played ukuleles at the “market”, thinking that it was a more public performance friendly space, but it wasn't, so we'd left the instruments in Liz’s ute. When she left to go to work, she took our instruments with her. As we were to be leaving before dawn the next morning, we needed them back. After Stuart picked us up, I took the three of us to dinner, and then we went to the old folk’s home where Liz worked to pick them up. As a condition of doing that, C and I played a dozen or so songs for the “Oldies” that were living there. I was asked to call from our journey to Queensland to let them know that we were going to make it OK, so I called Stuart from Brisbane the next day. He was glad to hear that we had made it, and Liz interrupted him to inform us that they were still talking about the ukuleles that day. Some of them enjoyed our playing, even though we couldn't possibly be thought of as professional. They liked us. Or at least the ones that could remember us playing liked us. It was one of the best parts of the trip.

Thus ended the first week in Australia.

Continue to The Great Australian Adventure, part 2

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