And here I am now, on a beach along the Great Ocean Road, as I travel with James in his Voiceless 365 van.
Here's what I'm hearing: the waves crashing on the shore, and the occasional screech of a seagull.
And what I'm smelling: the salty, ocean breeze.
And what I'm seeing: sandstone rocks curving around with some green scrub above, set against a cornflower blue sky with just the teeniest wisps of white, and the turquoise-blue waters lapping the sand topped with a little white foam. The beach is incredibly clean with just bits of seaweed flung here and there. No trash. No tar. And surprisingly, no seashells.
And what I'm feeling: the warmth of the sun, baking the surrounding rocks and sand, and the gentle breeze, cooling me and embracing me with such a kind touch.
As we arrived at Torquay Beach (tor-key) yesterday afternoon, the winds had gotten much cooler and I was grateful to have a jumper-- pronounced "jumpah"-- Australian for a sweater. I was grateful to have the cute little fleece jacket that my dad found while browsing a sporting goods store for a few last-minute items on a fun shopping excursion with Mom and Dad in Houston before I left. They generously purchased the jacket, some hiking pants that convert to shorts, a couple of tops and several "buffs"-- the kind that they wear on the TV reality show, "Survivor," to demonstrate which team the participants belong. I couldn't choose just one, and Dad gave me the opportunity to get several. They're very cute, all different fabrics. The buff is a tube of fabric that you can wear around your neck to keep the sun off of it, or you can scrunch it up as a headband or pull it up over your head like a balaclava or wear it like a scarf. Yesterday as James and I walked along the famous Torquay, well-known to surfers, I'd removed my buff and then pulled it over my head like a stocking cap to keep my ears warm.
For those who have warned me that I was traveling quite heavy, I can share that I feel comfortable having what I need. And that includes a sleeping bag that kept me cozy last night in the van on the cushions in the back, my Camelbak backpack water hydration system, my trekking poles, a couple of large quart-size Ziploc bags with my toiletries, a glass water bottle sheathed in a bright orange silicone sleeve, and a 20-oz Millennium H2O portable water filtration bottle that I can fill anywhere with water and, within six minutes, the water is alkaline and, when poured through the lid, is filtered. I have two pair of lightweight Ex-Officio-type pants, one t-shirt, one long-sleeved and one-short sleeved lightweight shirts, a bikini (which James's mom, Brenda helped me choose). The duffle bag on wheels that all of these things are in was a gift from Brenda and Tom. They'd taken one look at how heavy I had traveled to visit them and had realized I needed some help. I was happy to receive it. I'd left a much larger, heavier duffle back at Natalie's, after Natalie had shaken her head, knowingly, without chastizing me, gently suggesting I might consider traveling with a much smaller bag.
When I'd flown from Sydney to Melbourne, the Tiger Airlines attendant at baggage check-in weighed the luggage. I'd prepaid for 30 kg at $1/kilo, because Brenda had forewarned me that it is much cheaper to prepay for the baggage, and that if I waited until check-in or if I'd underestimated the weight, I'd pay a much dearer (more expensive) price. I scribbled a note, asking how much my bag had actually weighed and she answered, "15 kilo," and asked if I wanted to check another bag since I'd prepaid for 30, but I only had my carryon-- a reusable tote that Natalie had loaned me to tote things-- and that bag is quite heavy. I've stuffed a lot of food items in there-- raw organic protein powder, raw organic greens powder, lots of different seeds and nuts, and two jars of organic raw vegan nut butters (one is almond, the other is pumpkin seed). I'm carrying these with me because I've been told that I may have a hard time finding organic, raw vegan food in the Outback (Alice Springs and Uluru), where I'm headed from Adelaide on the train known as "The Ghan" and in northern Australia (Darwin, Kakadu, Katherine), so I'm prepared.
So while those things are literally "weighing me down," by the end of my travels through Australia, they will all be gone.
But in the meantime, I was toting a lot on Tuesday when Kat picked me up in her car at Moya's home in Craigieburn to go to Melbourne for a shoe shopping excursion to Vegan Style, followed by lunch. Purse. iPad case. Tote with my light jacket, and a few other things.
We'd had a fantastic time at Vegan Style. I was expecting to see just Jodie, but owner Justin Mead had also taken off work for his lunch break to come meet me! We laughed a lot as both Kat and I expressed such joy over the beautiful and compassionate shoes on display. All vegan. All fair trade.
I'd met the very beautiful Kateena ("Kat") (see photo) on the train on Sunday morning when I traveled from Nowra (adjacent to Natalie's hometown of Cambewarra) to Sydney to the Domestic Airport stop to catch the flight to Melbourne. We'd spent the entire trip chatting, her aloud with words and me silently with gestures or scribbling notes. It was so much fun and the excursion breezed by.
Kat was flying back to Melbourne, too, but on Virgin Airlines, so we were on different flights, but exchanged contact information and made plans to get together on Tuesday for shoes and lunch.
We'd decided on Yong's Green Food for our meal, after a two-thumbs-up recommendation from both Justin and Jodie. Kat and I shared two entrees, loved both and Kat exclaimed, "I could be vegan if I could learn to prepare food like this!"
It's easy, I gestured. Maybe the owner of this restaurant teaches raw food preparation classes. And I'm sure there's at least one raw vegan meetup group in Melbourne. It's a very vegan-friendly town. I've learned that the annual vegan festival is on Sunday, but I'm leaving on Wednesday with James so I can catch the train in Adelaide on Sunday morning to head into the Outback.
Speaking of Melbourne, I learned from my mom, when we were driving from our shopping excursion in Houston back to their home, that I'd been mispronouncing the city's name all these years. I'd pronounced it "mel-burn." Mom said, "No. It's pronounced 'mel-bun.'"
"Google it," she said. "You'll see."
Thank goodness for Google, right? Information we thought we'd never need or had no way of gathering is now at our fingertips.
I found a 15-second YouTube video, confirming what Mom had said.
Say it with me. Get used to it.
No more Mel-burn.
And it's a great city, on the water, to the south of Sydney, about a 90-minute flight-- or ten hours via train. Australia is a huge country. Both Natalie and Brenda have told me how people underestimate the size, thinking, "Oh, I can tour Sydney and Melbourne in the same day." Both shook their heads with a wry smile.
Kat had to leave after lunch for a meeting. She'd suggested I could walk along Brunswick St, which is full of eclectic little shops, and perhaps visit the incredible botanical gardens. Instead, I sat in the restaurant and spent time writing.
I felt him before I heard him. His bright energy preceded him. I swiveled around when I heard his voice and he flashed a smile. I waved and smiled back. i gestured that I didn't speak and he switched to Australian sign language.
Australian sign language, I've learned, is quite different from American Sign Language (ASL), the alphabet, in particular, which uses two hands to spell instead of the one-handed ASL alphabet.
I smiled and shook my head. I can hear, I gestured.
His friends at the table, two roommates, an Australian man and an American woman, told him they only had a few minutes before they had to leave.
After they'd taken off, he asked if he could join me and I smiled and gestured in welcome.
He introduced himself as Joshua and his high hair reminded me of my friend in LA, the very talented singer and musician, Darian Sahanaja.
My iPad battery was nearly depleted, but I didn't have the adapter for the Australian outlet to accommodate the American plug with me. Joshua tried his, but it didn't work, either. That was ok. It was a sign to shut it down and visit with Joshua. We chatted while he ate.
After awhile, I glanced at my watch and realized I needed to head out to meet Moya and James at the comedy club. I had no idea how to get there or how far away it is.
Joshua draws me a map and says it's well within walking distance.
I asked him if he wanted to join us, but he's made tentative plans to meet a friend for coffee. I gesture for him to text her, and he does. A few minutes later, he says, "I can walk you there, but I can't stay."
Joshua offers to carry my bag, and I'm carrying two bottles of water and my jacket and a couple of other things. I'm grateful for the company of a fine young vegan and for his gracious offer to help lessen my load. And so we had a beautiful stroll through an elegant park. Joshua told me that he's a singer and that he and his brother cut a demo that's not produced yet. It's on his iPod and he plays it for me on a portable speaker. It's a pop song with a boy band sound-- with the catchy refrain, "for your love." Sing along, I gesture, and he does, as we're walking along the streets of Melbourne.
He points out Victoria Market, a large area with a building with shops and stalls that's not open today. Both Kat and Moya had mentioned it.
The walk is peaceful and pleasant. There are a few bikes parked. It's a place where one can pick up a bike and leave it at another location.
As we approach the comedy club, Joshua asks, "Is that your friend?"
Sure enough, Moya is out in front. I introduce her to Joshua, we snap a couple of photos, and I use Joshua's phone to send James a text message. James replies that he's inside. Joshua heads off to meet his friend and we go inside for a few laughs.