Sunday, April 19, 2009

Enter the geriatrics

So my parents turned up along with a couple of friends of theirs for a three week tour around the country lead loosely by myself. Needless to say this marked a severe change in my Oz lifestyle. No more hitchhiking or staying in hostels. No more staying awake past 8 pm (unless to play scrabble). The general activity pace slowed down to glacial. Every departure from a room or arrival at a destination required a triple cross-checking of an essentials list to make sure that in the process of opening and shutting a hotel room or car trunk no wallets, keys, passports, sunglasses, dentures or party members had vanished or hid themselves in someone’s pocket.

Just getting out of the car could sometimes take hours. It was a bit like watching a pot of water boil and I never stuck around to watch it all unfold. It always began with a hearty round of congratulations to the driver for successfully avoiding having an accident despite many close calls, then a reapplication of various sun screens and ointments, followed by a group scavenger hunt for items ranging from car keys just removed from the ignition to the tube of sunscreen that had just been recapped. By the time I had returned from my perusal of the tourist stop’s notable features: a five kilometer bush walk, a few placards to commit to memory, or a Great Barrier Reef dive, somebody would have remembered that the keys were still in the ignition after all. I would then put on an official sounding tour guide tone and formally announce the highlights of the area, usually in the form of a list of bird species, and we would all pile back into and carry on to the next landmark.

I could carry on for the rest of this post about the holiday behavior of the geriatrics, but I’d like to avoid too deeply offending any of my sexagenarian readership. Also the scenery is a bit more photogenic. The upshot of them being along was my food and accommodation budget increased by 1600 percent. This meant luxury goods, such as fruits and vegetables were incorporated into my diet and I got to sleep in a private room for the first time in months. In fact every place we ended up staying was immensely fantastic in one way or another: a guest house at the foot of Australia’s second highest lighthouse, Australia’s oldest single-family owned hotel, a bed and breakfast in the Daintree rainforest to name some of the more noteworthy spots.

A lot of the places we visited were places I had already seen and commented on, such as the Great Ocean Road, Sydney and the Hunter Valley, so I will gloss over those. I did get to enter the Opera House not just to use the toilet, but to actually see a Stravinsky ballet, which was pretty awesome.

Definitely the highlight for me was getting up to Queensland to see the Daintree rainforest and getting to dive on the Great Barrier Reef. Nowhere else in the world is it possible to walk from one UNESCO world heritage area directly into another. I got to see a wild, flightless, endangered bird called a Cassowary right up close.(no I didn't take this picture, but the bird I saw looked just like it and was just as close)

Cassowaries can grow up to six feet tall and have been known to disembowel unsuspecting would-be birdwatchers with their powerful legs and talons earning their species the distinction of being the most dangerous in world among the avian order.

My parents are unique in that they are among a small minority of people willing to go out bird-watching with me. With a winning combination of their car rental abilities and my eye-sight, hearing and intense study of field guides, we added nearly 90 species to my Australian list in just three weeks. My dad even forked over 100 Aussie dollars (a price haggled down from 130) at a Chinatown market in Sydney for a pair of brand-less, high-powered binoculars so he could see some of the honeyeaters and parrots himself.

It ended up being a pretty spectacular three weeks that ended more quickly than any of us could have imagined despite the fact that it was the longest vacation my parents (or any Americans for that matter) have taken in more than forty years. Somehow I convinced them to drop me off on the side of the road in Kempsey so I could hitchhike further north and continue my adventures, while they had to go back south to Sydney to catch 36 hours worth of flights home where three weeks of piled up work, mail and newspapers awaited them. It was an arrangement that did not seem in the least bit fair.

I offered to take my dad’s place and fly home for him so he could be a backpacker for a bit. I reasoned that since our first and last names are the same we could swap plane tickets without anybody catching on. But he pointed out that his patients would probably notice a difference in appearance and somebody would probably sue me for malpractice, which I don't think is covered under my travel insurance.

Anyway I’m making my way north to Byron Bay and then onward to cover a section of personally unexplored coastline reaching southern Queensland before I have to fly home myself.

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