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I leave by ferry.

The thought of going the long way round on those freeways and hearing the toll token beep even one more time is enough to convince me that this is $65 well spent; with car. Dogs are free and are even allowed on deck. And I will save on fuel and tolls. Bargain.

So in the end it’s not really like leaving Melbourne at all; the last 8 months already like a distant memory in a way. The 45 minute drive to the ferry is lovely and leisurely. Mornington has some beautiful countryside. Apart from a couple of suitcases and 3 boxes I dropped off at “Pack and Send” so Nando can travel in comfort, all I own is packed in my car and on the roof again. As I drive I get the distinct feeling that something has changed, but it takes me a while to work out what it is before I notice: I am smiling! I feel wonderful and incredibly liberated.

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As we sail towards Queenscliff, dolphins swim alongside our ferry; what a privilege! And hopefully a good omen for my future 🙂

I had driven the first part of the “Great Ocean Road” before, but just as far as Jun Juc. As I now drive further, I realise that I can forget about any “plan” I might have had or any “schedule” of where I thought I’d be when. The road is increasingly windy and steep; and utterly beautiful!

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And I don’t really have to be anywhere in particular at any particular time.  For now I only need to decide where we might sleep tonight. With freedom come certain “snags”, such as homelessness! But I do have a tent, even if I l sold the $600 Black Wolf some months ago. Now I just have the $25 one that I bought for Nando as a rain shelter for the garden. Not quite the same, but for this short trip it will have to do. At least it is light and not on the roof, so I’ll have no excuse not to use it and spend money on accommodation instead, which I really shouldn’t.

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(our “kennel” for the night; his and hers beds…)

I only got off the ferry just before three after a 45 minute crossing, so I decide to only go as far as Johanna Beach. I’ve wanted to come here to camp anyway, and I’ll probably never get another chance. There are only a handful of other people here. Setting up does not take long, so for the second time today, Nando and I head for the beach. I owe him really; he is fit to travel, but his leg will never be quite normal again, and all those hours driving must get to him surely. But apart from fleeing the Melbourne climate, I am doing this for him too: after $20,000 worth of surgery, this dog must now be able to enjoy whatever lifetime he might have left.

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The ocean is absolutely wild here, and I am reluctant to let Nando swim. He insists and gets tossed around like never before in his life but seems to enjoy it. And just when I think I am “home dry”, I mutant wave absolutely drenches my shoes and jeans to the knees. Ah well. I can always put on yesterday’s pair again (the clean stuff is just too hard to get to in a hurry). I find dry socks but have no other enclosed shoes. Socks will have to do for tonight. After all: one does not need to wear shoes to drink wine!

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(My poor, German, quality shoes… And what on earth was I doing wearing shoes on the beach in the first place??? / I never did part with the purple chair with wine holder (and wine cooler in the arm rest actually!))

I go to bed early for once and wake up to the sound of rain. Rain sounds lovely from inside a tent and for $25, this thing is actually holding up really well. Eventually it dawns on me that I now have to pack up in this weather and everything will be soaking wet, not to mention the jeans, shoes and socks, which are still lying around out there somewhere. But at least I can bag the sleeping bag and roll up the mattress in here before rushing the bedding to the car; except that the sleeves are IN the car.. and I’m in here… and I have no idea where the car keys are….

By the time I’ve run around outside, found the keys, found the sleeves, packed up, packed the car, I am soaking wet and so is all my stuff. Then it stops raining. Don’t you just love camping!

Well, that means I now have an excellent excuse for stopping in a place with walls tonight. I need a somewhere to dry everything out. Totally beyond my control. Or so I convince myself 🙂

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(Moonlight walk with Nando at Johanna (just wearing socks) / which could be a problem if there really are snakes)

Click on photos to enlarge.

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Uninhabitable!

That was Leanne’s take on Melbourne. I met her at Nando’s specialist vet; she had flown here all the way from Perth with her dog Ella. It is early July, freezing cold, I’m not working yet so we spend our days together, wrapped around the gas fire and watch our dogs heal.

I don’t think I’ve ever gone to bed so early in my life. But in these arctic conditions, the only thing I feel like doing is watch i-view in bed. That does not mean I sleep early of course; you know me… and when I finally take on a 4-day per week, 9-5 office job, it is a bit of a culture shock.

But getting back into a routine is not the only thing that I struggle with: I now have to commute! I can’t remember the last time I had to do this, in the “more than 5 minutes down the road” sort of way anyway. …. 2002 perhaps?

Initially, living in Preston and then Northcote, it’s only 25 minutes or so; at least if I don’t spend too much time trapped behind a tram or stuck at a train crossing. Later I move to Mornington so Nando can finally have a beach again. (There aren’t any north side and in the south, a lot are not open to dogs and others only after 9pm! Crazy!)

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(The lovely little house in Northcote, home for a while / the hazards of walking in the park in Melbourne weather!)

So now I have a commute of at least one hour, sometimes up to 2… each way! …while dodging the blokes with “small man syndrome” in their Holden or Falcon utes on the freeway, erratically weaving through traffic, bringing everything to a grinding halt and listening to the beeping of my toll token which seems intent on reminding me that all this is costing me a fortune. At times it takes 30 minutes to crawl 3kms, especially though the tunnel. Why IS this so difficult? It’s just a road with a roof over it! If you’d let just 100 Melbourne drivers loose on a German motorway, there be a bloodbath!!! But on the three days I don’t work, I can finally breathe fresh air again. And we even have a “roundabout” in the front garden, the block is so big…. I seem to have come up in the world. For a while.

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(Yes…. I know it well. AND you have to pay to drive here! – Google image)

Then there is the weather. Spring never comes and assurances that this is not normal don’t do much to keep me warm. Summer, finally some sunshine. But on day three I go to bed with my hot water bottle again and the lovely summer clothes in my wardrobe, not worn for months now, make me think that I am trapped in some kind of parallel universe.

Uninhabitable indeed.

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(Idyllic back yard in Northcote on the first day of summer)

But at least I can say I live in the world’s most liveable city, as voted by…. Yes, by who?

For most people life is just about waking up, going to work, going home, going to bed and doing it all again. Does it matter so much where you do that?

I suppose that is a bit unfair. Melbourne has culture, creativity, music, great shopping, superb coffee, the best food, amazing markets where you can buy everything from an emu egg, the freshest veggies ever, “real” bread, as well as German small goods, to all the pieces you need to build your own pig; multi-culturalism at its best, friendly people who will chat to you in the street, more coffee, trams, … even more coffee…. and some lovely architecture and historic buildings…that are impossible to heat.

And traffic, traffic jams, chaos, tram tracks and an awful lot of rain.

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(Emu egg / body parts at the Chinese butcher… Apologies to my vegetarian and muslim friends…)

I keep an open mind for a long time thinking that one day, when I no longer have to dedicate every free minute to Nando’s recovery and when I finally have money again after his 5 surgeries (with all the complications), I will go out more, have some fun, see what this city is all about. But by that time, I find myself so stuck in a rut, as well as really, really, REALY cold…. Something has to change!

Every time I am on that little Mornington beach or walk amongst the trees, I so know that I don’t belong in Melbourne.

Every time my GPS announces “there are 40 minutes of delay on your route; you are on the fastest route!”, I am even more sure.

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(Don’t worry, I did not take a photo while speeding down the freeway. As you can see, my speed at the time was “zero”. And for some time after.)

It is mid March, not yet freezing cold but it should not be too long now. Resigning from a well paid, secure job with an internationally renowned company is plain crazy. But then again, it could be as sane, healthy and necessary as embarking on this trip in the first place.

So I might as well finish it.

I will miss the markets where the vendors know your name, know what you like to buy, where everything is fresh, natural, tasty and so much cheaper. Why on earth would anyone want to shop at Woolies?? Also the “mending nights” at Cath’s, where you can glue stuff back together, re-thread your beads, sew up split seams… all that after a beautiful dinner together, every Wednesday. And the lovely community spirit in the northern suburbs, where while walking the dog people will introduce themselves by name and chat to you from their front gardens where they tend their veggies; in some places there are even veggies on the verges!

But I am also very excited. By some fluke I have already been offered a job in Perth with only a week in between. It’s even something worthwhile (and therefore of course badly paid), with CASE for refugees. I wish I had more time to stop and explore en route, but I should not be ungrateful. I always seem to fall on my feet. And 9 days is just about enough to have at least some adventure!

Looks like I’m actually, finally going home!

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(A rare day of sunshine, escaping the city at Jan Juc, about 90 minutes away.)

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(A little mini-holiday at a dog retreat in the Tarra Valley. I you want to see Nando go really wild with that ball, look here: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=1460692224145592&set=vb.100006144842344&type=2&theater)

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(It was meant to be a three night stay; but after one night only, we had to be evacuated due to the bush fires!)

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(Since we could not get back to Melbourne anyway, with all the roads blocked off, we found a great alternative at “Paradise Beach”. Smoke still in the air most of the time.)

Click on any of the photos to enlarge.

(This blog is a bit longer than usual, being the last one, at least for a while… so please bear with me)

Jervis Bay was cold; I am told that Melbourne is even colder but that nothing is as cold as Canberra!

People are always surprised when I say I don’t like the cold, insisting that I must be used to it because I come from a “cold country”, overlooking the fact that in Germany people have central heating, double glazing and that no German would dream of sitting in their own home wearing gloves and beanies, while their breath is forming icicles around their faces… Therefore, growing up I enjoyed an indoor temperature of around 22 degrees all winter, with night times a little lower, perhaps 14 or 16 degrees, and so I now have every right to find winter in southern Australia a little challenging!

Yet again, it is Jane who comes to my rescue, using her contacts and extended family as my safety net. Although when I initially do not get a response, I put the word out for an alternative and a friend suggested that maybe “Julia’s office” might be free…. Little did we know how true this would be only a few days later. But for now, all works out in the end and I join Nat, her 4 kids, 4 huskies (which I never actually get to see, keeping Nando separate from them) and 2 cats.

For the first time “couchsurfing” takes on its literal meaning. But tired from the drive, some sightseeing while the weather is clear (museums and galleries can wait till the morning, being indoors), some cheap wine and for the very first time actually luxurious central heating, I survive this too. And I surprise myself at just how excited I feel when the country’s most important landmarks finally come into view:

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(Parliament House)

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(Old Parliament House, much prettier. Now it is the “Museum of Australian Democracy”. Personally I prefer my democracy alive and well, rather than archived and on display…. (also, mental note to self to stop taking “crooked” pictures…))

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(some other really important buildings… probably)

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(Really, really important too but all too often overlooked / ignored / not known about… The Aboriginal Tent Embassy. But don’t let me “lecture” you on this. Be different, do your own research! Unfortunately on this day it is closed, due to “sorry business”.)

For those who don’t know, Canberra is quite an unusual sort of place (and not only because they seem to paint their roadkill neon pink around here). It is entirely invented (the town, not the roadkill) and the result of a design competition 100 years ago. The suburbs are more like villages dotted around, with lots of greenery between them and the actual city, making it more of a “capital village”. The centre is easy to navigate around but some quite ugly apartment type buildings prevent it from being attractive. Ah well, at least I can now say I have been here.

The next day is a bit of a hike; nearly 700km and probably more like 9 hours, by the time I get to my friend’s house. I am tempted to go via Kosciusko National Perk; there will be snow this time of year and I have not seen any for a very long time. But in the end it turns out to be a miserable, foggy and rainy day, so I probably would not have seen much, so I go via the Hume Highway like a sensible person.

http://www.google.com.au/search?hl=en&biw=1320&bih=702&q=kosciusko&bav=on.2,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.48705608,d.aGc&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=fRLZUZiiC6-XiQemiYHgDA

Click above link to see what unfortunately I didn’t see…

The drive to Canberra was challenging enough with winding roads, very steep inclines and some absolutely stunning scenery, so some flat country is fairer on Nando too, if not particularly exciting. One of the most interesting “sights” is a group of workers, picking litter from the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere. I had not really been paying attention to it, but once I have passed them, I notice there is a LOT of rubbish (mainly drinks bottles and other plastic.) I will never understand how someone’s brain works (if one is actually present) for them to just open the car window and throw out their garbage…. But we don’t need a cash for containers scheme, or so the industry keeps telling us…

I get to Melbourne just on dusk. It is slightly hazy, making the city look quite stunning in the twilight. The drive over the Bolte Bridge is also quite an experience.

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(Bolte Bridge, Google image)

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(Melbourne, Google image. Apparently that really tall building is the highest in the southern hemisphere.)

My directions are pretty good and even though at some stage I end up on the road to Phillip Island, I am not too far away and Lee comes out to “retrieve” me, for which I am very grateful after such a long drive. My friends’ very modern house is beautiful (if I say so myself, despite my love for “old stuff”), comfortable and also has central heating, and I am welcome to stay until about 20 July, when they are “doing a Heike”; with house sold, they are also going to drive around Australia, anti-clockwise. A shame really that after 11 years of not seeing each other (I used to work at easyJet in England with Claudia), this is going to be so “fleeting”.

I have no intention of staying this long of course. Just a few days until Nando gets better and with enough time for me to catch up with friends. Although I have to be really careful when it comes to spending money on things like eating out now. There is light at the end of my tunnel, with my tax return and hopefully a little something for me from my parents for my birthday; but both are still a little while off yet. But I do treat myself a little bit: a lovely meal with Katie at a little Italian restaurant in Malvern, an Indian with Claudia and her friends. It is nice though that other things don’t have to cost anything at all, other than some petrol of course. Walking in the Dandenongs with Cath, free tickets to the MCG (Richmond v St Kilda), breakfast at Cath’s with Susannah, who I had not met before other than on facebook, as well as lunch with a very special Scrabble (also facebook) friend, Suzanne. After talking online nearly every day for 5 years, finally we get to meet in real life. Special.

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(Views of the Dandenongs; hard to believe that this is just outside the city!)

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(MCG, Google image)

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(Play at the MCG about to begin; Richmond absolutely “hammered” St. Kilda. I still have that winning “Tiger” song in my head… It’s nearly appealing, in a strangely German sort of way… Brace yourselves: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsZEBvXiifo)

I never thought that I would ever in my life end up at a game of AFL; I really have no interest in it at all (being more a soccer girl by birth). But the MCG is impressive and the atmosphere was quite incredible and unexpectedly good-natured, even fan from opposing teams sitting together. Before, I had always associated AFL with beer guzzling blobs sitting on sofas or in bars, yobbing… But here were families, even babies in prams! The only slight disagreement had nothing to do with the game but was over who was next to weave into the line of exiting cars (once people had actually managed to find their cars… took us a while too… I was sure it was “by a tree somewhere”…). Instead we had a cup of hot chocolate and waited for the rush to be over. Cath is so well prepared at all times! Although perhaps the most enjoyable part was when in the long break, they had teams of little girls, some as young as 5yr old perhaps, showing off their skills; oh well, their enthusiasm then 🙂 They were soooo cute.

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(A walk in the park where the blue chickens live, being silly with some really good public gym equipment… And beanies are better worn outdoors!)

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(Blue “chickens”)

But the great dampener in all this is Nando’s leg. There seems to be an infection and he is walking nowhere near as confidently as he was a few days ago. After finding another great vet (Karingal Vet Hospital) and getting some different antibiotics, it gets better for a little while before he stops using it altogether. Some further x-rays (this time for $200 less than the very first ones in Brisbane and with actual expertise) reveal that there is a problem: a bony mass showing where there should not be one. A splinter? After being referred to Dr Chris Preston, THE specialist in this field, we find that the patella (knee cap for the uninitiated) seems to have “moved up”. I am told that the tendon has snapped and needs to be re-attached to the tibia… Apparently this is really rare and he has only seen one case like this ever before! While Chris eagerly snaps picture of my dog’s leg to show at a conference next week (where he will meet with Nando’s first surgeon so they can do some bonding; Quentin still calls me for updates. Both guys are really lovely), I am torn between utter despair, feeling physically sick, guilt for having started all this surgery in the first place (even if all vets keep telling me it was the right thing to do) and relief to definitely be in the right place with the best vet for Nando and the best “home”for both of us with all the love and cuddles he could want and all the best food cooked by Claudia, and nothing much to worry about for me, other than actually reciprocating when I can again (a bit of a mirror image of Jervis Bay). I am so grateful.

My hope that these people deal direct with the insurer’s are dashed yet again, but at least I am let off with “just” a $1000 advance, half of what is customary. I have no clear idea where the other $3500 are going to come from but trust the universe; or rather my exceptional friends. A few blogs ago when in Cairns, I said how thankful I was to know that there are safety nets in my life, although I hoped I would not have to use them. Well, now I do. Not for me; I could put up with a tooth ache for a while; but I would always do absolutely everything for my dog. I promised, all those years ago. And I meant it.

Before I even get the change to make calls and beg, Claudia and Lee offer to advance to difference. (btw Michael, I did post the last claim a good while back, so there should be some money very soon for the first op!!) I feel more confident now; even though this surgery is even more major, this guy is the best. And I am told that I no longer have to watch what Nando is doing. He will have an external metal frame with 5 pins through his bones, but he can go swimming in the ocean!

When Claudia and I go to collect him the day ofter his operation, I wish I had not been told this. i am utterly horrified to see him dragging his operated leg, paw bent back and scraping on the ground, showing the first signs of damage to the skin. It is only when at 9pm I receive a call from the clinic to confirm that this is “normal”, with his leg having been fixed into full extension, I feel a little better. In the meantime, we create protection out of an old sock and lots of band-aid… with the doggie shoe that Claudia happened to have having failed and fallen off.

Today is the day after Nando pick-up, Sunday 7 July. Nando is coping a bit better, although still dragging and I am worried about the “clicking” noise in his good leg. It will take a few more days to learn to “swing” the bad leg and the frame will have to be on for about 6 weeks, so there is no way we are going anywhere in a hurry. One thing I will have to do in a real hurry though is earn some money. At the end of last week I have “carpet bombed” Melbourne with job applications. For some of those I might even be in with a chance. And I am very lucky that once Lee and Claudia are gone,  I can lodge with other friends at least until I find something more “permanent”.

Permanent is not a word I had expected to use before Fremantle. But then again, the whole journey was all about having an open mind. Even before this last bit of bad Nando news I had considered staying at least a little while. I do like this city. According to my Jervis Bay friend, “Melbourne suits me”. She might be right and after all, it does hold the current “most livable city in the world title. The mindset here is compatible with mine, people seem friendly, there is good public transport, there is art, music, “old stuff” and already some friends… And I even have a sat nav now, second hand and therefore occasionally confused, but I am in love with it. I don’t love the weather quite the same, I wish there was an “off button” for the cold; but at least I have bought and inherited a few things and can finally start thinking about having my other belongings sent here. It will be like having a whole new wardrobe 🙂

It’s not just that I have to work again, I am actually looking forward to it: meeting new people, having a sense of purpose. In Brisbane my friend asked me if I was afraid of making money. A fair question I suppose, knowing my history. But it’s not that at all. What I am afraid of is being stuck in a place I don’t care about, where work is not a challenge, where I don’t like what I do or don’t feel that I make a difference. It’s really all about “the big three”: Being where I most want to be, doing what I most want to do, and be with who I most want to be with. I almost thought I might have found that once, until it was taken away from me without even an attempt of an explanation. For the right person, I could put up with the other two not being perfect. With the other two I can accept being alone. Maybe here I have some hope at getting the place and job right and take my time until maybe one day, even I can “have it all”.

So this is it from me for a while. Who knows if this really is the destination or perhaps just an extended stop. No arrival in a blaze of glory, more like a grinding halt but if this really is the end, I have absolutely no regrets. I so needed to do this (that little “lump” last year did not need to teach me that life is short, I knew that already, but it was a timely reminder!) and for most of the time, I had an absolute ball!

As they say in Broome: “What now?” If I ever do find out, I’ll let you know. Until then, I am glad you have enjoyed my blogs and shared my journey so far; thank you!

I leave with some sad pictures of Nando; but if you are squeamish, you can just skip to the last “random picture” of this series of blogs.

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(Nando’s scar not looking good at all 10 days after his initial operation (only enlarge if you are really interested, this is not pretty; but at least he is getting lots of loving from Lee. And see that little dog? When we first arrived she was lifted up to get a better sniff at Nando’s bum, being so high up and her being quite old, and then her rear was held up for Nando to explore! The ultimate in “dog-friendly…)

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(The external fixture, still covered in bandages, fixing his leg into full extension)

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(Finally asleep on the first night home after his second op, but still on full alert. Note the ear: we call it his “satellite dish”.)

And now the totally random pictures. And this is REALLY random. It could not possibly get more random…

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Yes, it is a potato, one that is closely related to the platypus and has lentils for eyes. Don’t ask…..

“How long are you going stay for?” M asks via SMS.

“I don’t know, however long feels right to all of us and depending on Nando’s recovery of course, now that I finally have the chance to go to a vet that knows about orthopedics. Is that ok?”

“Gangway needs to know”.

“Gangway??” Fully convinced that this is a typical case of “auto-correct” gone wrong…

“We live on a Navy base, and you will need a pass, so they need to have dates”.

Ah, ok. “So, if I say I stay for 3 weeks but then leave after 3 days…. will there be “consequences”?” Visions of attractive sailor men interrogating me about my suspicious, early departure come to mind….

“They just need to know where you are, and you need to carry ID at all times”

I think I can cope with that. I have been looking forward to this particular part of my trip for some time. These are friends of mine from Darwin with their two dogs, one of which is my “god-dog” Dobby, who one day, when she was still a puppy, found me on the beach and introduced me to her owners. That was two years ago.

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(Dobby; not just an ordinary dog! No sprinkler is safe from being chewed, no heart from being melted)

The drive is pleasant and only just under three hours. Nando and I stop off in Berry, a lovely little village just short of Nowra for a nice lunch. According to the waiter, dogs are not only allowed but people are “encouraged”(!) to bring them. Nice. Also nice is the wonderful art and craft shop with the best selection of quality wool I have seen in many years. I decide to come back some time soon to do some shopping. Now that I no longer live in the tropics with hands being permanently sweaty, I might take up knitting again. I might have to come back without Nando though, as he is utterly terrified by this:

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(Plastic dog… and google image of Berry high street)

HMAS Creswell; quite an unusual place. A small Navy base, or rather a naval college, located in a national park. Buildings and even open spaces are all named after parts of a ship, as if this entire place was one. Occasional there is some commotion: someone runs around frantically, obviously having lost the plot; but it is only role-play as part of the last days of training here. They really do seem to be having fun!

My friends live in a beautiful, heritage listed house with stunning wooden floors and huge fireplaces in every room. And all of this right on the beach. Just so I can be sure I am not “leaking” anything of national importance, instead of my own pics, here are some that are already on Google:

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(You’ll never see clearer waters)

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(Kangaroos in charge of national security!)

Kangaroos. They are everywhere! Including right outside the house, day and night, being able to live a comfortable life entirely without threats to their personal safety. Nando is fascinated and watches intently from the front verandah of the house, shivering with excitement. The first (on-lead) walk is equally tense, until he gets used to the fact they they are just standing around, staring at us, looking slightly unreal and “superimposed” on the scenery.

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(Kangaroos looking “photoshopped”; enlarge to appreciate this more)

To the beach it’s only a stone throw from the house; if unlike me, you are good at throwing that is. The waters are crystal clear and the sand white. And, there is nobody here. At all.

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(Captains Beach with Navy toys)

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(Captains Beach with distant scenery. It’s a hard life… Not!)

Nando is in love with the place, which makes it all the more heartbreaking for me, knowing that in just a few days he will no longer be able to run around like a dog possessed. After spending nearly $600 at the Greencross Vet in Kenmore (Brisbane) on x-rays that the vet who did them (not the one that I had consulted; they switched without notifying me. Grrrrr.) was unable to interpret. She just about managed to hold them the right way up. Here, in nearby Nowra, there is finally one that has orthopedic experience. He only had to hear Nando’s history from me to make a diagnosis of a partially torn ACL. So surgery it is. I almost wish it would snap properly, with all his play and going crazy with Dobby, so I could feel more convinced that it is actually necessary. But if we don’t do this, he will be crippled with arthritis from a much earlier age.

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(Nando making the most of his pre-op days with Dobby)

When I finally drop him off for his surgery, I burst into tears. I am suddenly very aware that with his 6th birthday only a few days away, he is now half way through his life, with the best times already behind him. I console myself with the thought that by doing this, at least the next half will be more enjoyable for him than it otherwise would be. And at least he is insured. (And thank you Michael for lending me a large part towards the advance payment! xx)

While he is in surgery, I go back to Berry to buy some wool. I also buy a book called “Doggie Knits”. Only having “tropical fur”, Nando does get cold easily and it is nearly impossible to buy comfy wear for a dog his size; so I decide to make my own. In Nowra I finally stock up on long sleeve T-shirts and jeans for myself. A strange place this. I have been told that it has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the country and in the shopping centre, I see what I call “the look of poverty” everywhere: pasty looking, badly dressed people and women with an unhealthy fondness for too much peroxide and tracksuits… (she says in a non-judgemental, caring sort of way) But the lovely little villages and small towns that are dotted around the area make up for it, Kangaroo Valley being one example. According to the welcome sign, it was actually mainland Australia’s first plastic bag free town (although the net says it’s only the 2nd in NSW in 2003), and I am wondering what is taken the rest of the country so long to catch up….

I am told the surgery went well and when I pick up Nando the next day, he is very happy to see me and in quite good form, if a little “naked”.

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I am not too happy with the suture line though, and when the bandage is removed before we can go home, his wound starts bleeding again, so it has to be redone for another day, also resulting in a huge swelling. Poor puppy. But at least all his friends are there to look after him.

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(Nando with Dobby and Jedi, who had her ACL done 3 years ago and who now is as good as new)

I am so grateful we are in such a wonderful place where I can relax and not worry about a thing other than my dog, but when I try to bring back nice things such as gourmet cheese from Berry, I am told in no uncertain terms “don’t buy anything!”. Also nice is that I can just take off for a while, with Nando being loved in my absence. So I treat myself to a little drive to an old, ruined lighthouse. Interesting story: it was built in the 1800s in entirely the wrong place (power winning over common sense), contributing to more deaths that it ever prevented.

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(Cape St George lighthouse)

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(And of course as always, nothing is ever quite safe here in Australia)

My worry about my dog is at least offset a little by the relaxing surroundings and my friends’ brilliant, witty and intelligent sense of humour. While Nando is trying to use his bad leg pretty well already, ideally he is only supposed to go outside to pee on a lead and do nothing else at all other than rest (the recovery taking about 3-4 months in total!). Keeping Dobby from “dogging” him is not always easy. So some bird feeding provides a welcome distraction:

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Nando’s op was on Tuesday 18 June. The vet does not think it is a problem for us to finally move on, as resting on his bed in the back of my car is really no different than resting in the house and he can have a check up at the next place. And I cannot stay not working for much longer, and looking for a job here is quite pointless. I am realising more than ever that this journey is finally about “arriving”. With Nando’s condition, the location, the cold and the dwindling funds, adventure has given way to everyday concerns.

So on Sunday 23 June, Nando’s official birthday, we finally head for Canberra. I could drive along the coast, but even if the road is only a short distance from the beaches, it really does not mean I am going to see them. So I opt for the shorter route to Melbourne, with just a slight detour to see the capital of the country I have been living in for 11 years now. I am only 2 or 3 hours away, so I might as well.

This time I leave with a supply of Argentinian tea (Yerba Mate; apparently the Lebanese really like it, therefore it can be bought here now) and a very sensible pair of hand-me-down Redback boots. Nando leaves with a limp and a slight concern that after some progress, he is starting to not walk as well as he did two days earlier. But hey, this was really major surgery and some discomfort can only be expected.

And the “random picture” for this blog is…. : (Go on, have a guess!)

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(click to enlarge)

……

any idea?

No?

Well, it obviously is…

…. a lion basher!

Of course.

(and what a lovely, reassuring touch that little pointy bit on the round end is, don’t you think?)

Kempsey to Sydney

Saying I had to stay in Kempsey all that time is probably not quite true. I could have gone to Tamworth and stayed with a friend’s ex-husband. But in the end the lure of country music was not quite enough to persuade me to use more petrol than absolutely necessary. I know that some time in my near future, there will be more veterinary expenses. Nando is still limping badly, every time he has a bit of a proper run, so equipped with the hand-me-down pair of leggins I got off Cousin Sally to join the Gladstone socks, Sydney here I come.

Since Kempsey, I am driving on the best bit of freeway I have seen anywhere in Australia yet; two lanes each directions, free of holes and with hard shoulder for safe stopping. Armed with the most thorough and accurate directions for the first time in 6 months, finding Curl Curl on the northern beaches is a piece of cake, and I arrive about an hour before my friend Brydie returns from her week away. Nando and I use the time well and explore the dog park, which is at the end of our street, only 50 meters away! There is a lovely little lagoon too, but a sign saying “Polluted Water” kind of puts a damper on it. Apparently people use it as a dumping ground. Nothing is sacred it seems. Otherwise the park is lovely and has poo bags supplied, as well as a good few taps with drinking water.

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(Google image: lagoon meets beach at Curl Curl)

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(Google image; crocs, sharks, stingers and vindictive plants are no longer the hazard down this way, people are)

Having found the place so easily makes me like it instantly. Apart from that, it also has a lovely feel to it. Brydie’s little unit is cute and comfortable, with a lovely courtyard garden, that very much has her personal touch. (We used to house share in Broome, many years ago, and there were always wonderful things about the place, that made it “home”)

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(Lovely first evening spent by the outdoor fire)

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(Not a great pic, but unexpected possum appearing on the fence behind the chilli plant; Nando doing his best hippie, tree hugging dog impression.)

Around 1995, I worked in Felixstowe, in England. Every day I walked past a tiny little travel agency with a huge poster of the Sydney Opera House displayed in the window. It said: “How much longer can you say ‘one day I’ll go to Australia’…”.

Well, I have finally been here for just over 11 years. But still Sydney has eluded me. And while it is one thing to say I’ll skip the centre of Townsville or Gladstone, Sydney is one of the few “ticks” I need to apply to the boxes of my very short list. My first full day is a public holiday Monday, and I am grateful that I am “being taken out” into the city, rather than having to go on my own.

First we stop for a coffee in Manly. Coffee average, Manly very nice. Again, I like the atmosphere here, as well as the fact that the place is full of dogs. Rather than drive into the city, we decide to take the ferry. Very exciting. My 101 questions are misplaced however, as Brydie has never done this before either. Bizarrely, on the ferry itself, we get a running commentary… from a Texan! He seems to know what he is talking about and I for one am interested in what he has to say; a lot more so than the children that are actually with him. I also take over the role of  “7-year old on duty” when after a journey of about 40 minutes and one dolphin sighting later, the opera house finally comes into view, excitedly exclaiming: “There it is, there it is”. Luckily nobody seems to notice…

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(Very brave (stupid?) canoeist competing with the ferry traffic…)

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(En route views)

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(First city views. It’s kind of a nice day, but looks a little gray in the pics.)

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(Did you know the roof was covered in ceramic tiles?)

Some better images I found on Google, taken by someone else on a brighter day (and with the luxury of a helicopter by the looks of it):

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After a quick lunch we have a wander around the opera house, but they don’t let you into the actual auditorium… So really, in the end, there are a few corridors and the awesome feeling that comes with knowing you are somewhere really special. Even if you can’t quite see it.

Much more interesting is the old town. Even the fact that there is one, something I have always missed in places such as Darwin or Brisbane. Darwin could not really help it, with cyclone Tracey and all that. I’m not sure what Brisbane’s excuse is. There are a good few building reaching right the way back into the early 1800s, which appeals to the European in me.

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(Street scape of old Sydney)

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(A nice afternoon cider at ‘Phillip’s Foote’, The Rocks.)

I am surprised at how “bite-sized” and tranquil it all is and come to the conclusion that Sydney is a village. Ok, I might think differently if I lived here and had to commute to work every day, but I do realise that I am not actually as “anti city” as I thought I had become. I do very much like this one. So maybe there is hope for me yet. Although the fact that I had a guide made a huge difference for a first exploration too. Thank you Brydie.

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(Not far from the old town, a tunnel where people seem to practice walking up walls…)

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(A girly girl’s ultimate dream: shoes… made from chocolate!)

I still say that the whole “Sydney is a village” statement is not as crazy as it might sound. Perhaps “a collection of villages” would be fairer still. Because it is arranged around an endlessly curving coastline, small “units of habitations” are identifiable, each with some kind of centre / heart. Nothing seems endlessly hectic. And on the last day, I even find my way out again, driving right through the city.

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(Google: The collection of villages that is Sydney)

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(Typical street leading down to the water, somewhere in the suburbs.)

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(Google: Dee Why beach, next suburb over from Curl Curl. I can see how living here has its appeal!)

I would very happily stay longer. Nando is in heaven with dog park visits a few times a day, and I feel welcome and comfortable; but by now I have had a recommendation for an orthopedic vet in Nowra, near my next stop at Jervis Bay, so reluctantly we decide to leave after only two nights. Still, it was great to catch up. As nice as couch surfing is, staying with friends, especially after a few years of not seeing each other, is always extra special. But I have that to look forward to in Jervis Bay too. And at least it’s only a drive of less than three hours 🙂

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Nb: Every time I write a blog now I feel they are getting more and more…. well, not exactly boring… duller perhaps? But that is quite unfair. I am still thoroughly enjoying what I am doing it. It is just very different now. I am no longer in “extreme” environments or climates, places that a large proportion of people even in this country, will never know, let alone understand. I am also no longer living my life “inside a holiday brochure”, like in Broome for example. At least not this time of year. But being here in the colder months is a good thing too. If this was about finding what this country is all about, I have to also see it “at its worst”….

I am still struggling with the cold. The box I packed back in Broome with “warmer clothes”… well, I have no idea what on earth my “Broome brain” was thinking. I was probably still in “anything below 24 degrees is freezing” mode. So not much of use in there after all. A few purchases later, things are looking up a little. I enjoy wearing nice winter things, if that did not have to mean it is then actually winter.

Generally, things are a lot more “normal” now. “Normal” towns with “normal people…. None of that outback adventure stuff. Still very amazing; Australia is beautiful, even if I can’t help thinking how much more beautiful it would have been once upon a time.

As for the purpose of my trip… fact finding…. where do I, could I fit in? I still have no idea 🙂

(The names in this story have been changed to protect the innocent!)

I really wish I did not have to leave again already. But by lunchtime and after lots of coffee, I rally can’t wait any longer. I still have not had directions to get to Kempsey, or rather somewhere sort of near it. With a few exceptions, true to me never doing anything quite “normal”, this place too is not actually in the town. Probably because my friends are just that little bit “not quite normal” either; and that includes their friends and relatives.

They say the universe provides; in my case, my friend Jane in Broome does. After arranging my stopover in Halls Creek all those months ago, this time I am booked in with “Cousin Sally”. (as opposed to her cousin Sally; even the contact details sent to my mobile via SMS said “Sally Cousin”)

Because it is so late already, I am tempted just to go the most direct route (350km). But I did promise Sherree that I would take a quick look at Evans Head on the NSW coast. I am not sure what is meant to be there, other than that she is thinking of it as an alternative to Byron Bay for a possible move from Darwin. And while I decide to skip Byron this time because I have been there before (and quite liked it) and because it has changed, gotten expensive, etc… if Evan’s Head is anything like it, it will be a detour worth my while.

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(Google image of Byron; and no, I was not there this time but thought it was worth showing, being the eastern most point of Australia. Which reminds me, the northern tip of Cape York is the northern most. I have been there too in 2004. So how about I shock you with a photo from a time when I always used to look younger than my age!!)

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Well, this trip was meant to be a fact finding mission. But in the end, the best I can say about Evans Head is that it is easy to get around in. Even I don’t get lost. But I am at a loss as to why anyone wants to live here, or even holiday here… There are dozens of caravan parks; and while this is a bit of a gray day, I still don’t get it. Unless you really like banksia of course. Broadwater National Park, as well as part of the town, are full of them.

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(Banksia. Quite nice, but not enough to make me want to stay somewhere for any length of time!)

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(Although Nando might disagree. Easy beach access here, if a little featureless and with tyre tracks….. And he does finally get to finish his long overdue poo!)

Another reminder of just how different things are now: I get talking to a lovely woman on the beach, who seems quite shocked that I am going THAT far still today. 300km. Hmmm Isn’t that just down the road?

I have been “encouraged” to arrive before dark. I don’t think I am going to make that, but at least I try not to be too much later. Which is not easy, because it is fairly much night time now at the unexpectedly early time of around 5pm (!) and it constantly feels much later than it actually is. With the highways bypassing most towns here now, Coffs Harbour is about the only place I get a bit of a look at.

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(Google image; opposite view to the one I had)

By the time I get to Kempsey it is definitely dark, but somehow I accidentally end up on the correct side of town. I call Cousin Sally who wants to know whether I got her directions. I didn’t. Probably because she sent them about an hour after I departed. But she is the one who totally goes out of her way to come nearly 20km (each way) towards me, so I can follow her back into the “wilderness”.

wil·der·ness  (wldr-ns)n.

  • 1. An unsettled, uncultivated region left in its natural condition, especially:
  • a. A large wild tract of land covered with dense vegetation or forests.
  • b. An extensive area, such as a desert or ocean, that is barren or empty; a waste.
  • c. A piece of land set aside to grow wild.
Maybe the Farlex online dictionary should consider definition d….
  • d. A place where Telstra can’t be bothered to provide a service in exchange for the fortune they are being paid by their customers.
As I wait for Cousin Sally 20km from town at our agreed meeting place (with 20km still to go, half of it dirt road!) I take a last look at the civilisation we have come to know as “facebook”. I belatedly find the directions, together with a request for 2 liters of milk. Ah well. Too late now. But I do have a nice bottle of wine, although that’s probably not much use for the Weetbix…
Shrouded in the dust cloud from Cousin Sally’s car, I make it the last few kilometers, just guided by her rear lights and at a speed that in the light of the next day is just utterly ridiculous, to be greeted by two little wallabies at the end of the driveway. The even sweeter welcome is provided by the lovely log fire in the lounge. While in Brisbane people always seemed to insist that “it’s not really that cold”, around here people just get on with it and light the fire. Nice.
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(Farm house on 300 acres of land!)
This really is a haven of peace and tranquility. The days are still nice and warm, even if the nights do get quite cold. But the beautiful, thick doona with white, lacy covers takes the edge of that nicely. It also is a fantastic place to play with my camera.
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Because the farm has been organic now for many years, there are sooooo many butterflies, as well as other useful insects:
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(all pics can be enlarged, as always)
And then there is all the yummy food!
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(The avocado looks a bit shabby but they tasted really good! I am also surprised that these, as well as citrus, grows so far south. But it seems that southern and northern hemisphere plants do equally well around here.)
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Happy, organic cows do well too (and they love eating Kumquats!). And unlike the ones in Nimbin, these ones have real attitude. I am told that Nando is welcome to explore, as long as I am happy that they might do real damage to him. While I don’t want him to get hurt, I have to accept this and trust that when it really matters, his timid nature would prevent him from pushing his luck quite that far. And when we do take him for a cow walk, we end up crouching behind a tree to “shake off”  a curious 18 month old calf that is hard on our heels…. Nando safely at the end of a lead, seems just as nervous as I am….
And of course no rural environment would be complete without the “phantom pregnancy chicken”:
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And some general “guest animals”:
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Some general farm impressions:
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(The creek that is part of the property)
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(Introduced trees; not environmentally correct, but how beautiful is the smell of autumn! And so much fun kicking the fallen leaves as you walk…)
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Gardens:
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And all this is being lovingly cared for by one very amazing lady. And did I mention it was entirely organic…. And yes, there are things here that should not be here, but no pesticide would be able to combat the introduced, rampant weeds, that during some time in the past ignorant people brought here, because they are “pretty”:…
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(Left: fast spreading, unknown ground weed of pot-plant origin; Right: Lantana. A large shrub and a total nightmare.)
With so much to see just in my immediate surroundings, I almost do not feel the need to go anywhere else. Especially since “anywhere else” in this case means at least 40km or so away. But the occasional need for phone and internet connection, as well as the urgent need for warm clothes, does get me out of the house at least on occasion.
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(General scenery)
Kempsey itself kind of has everything one might need and is not too big, so I actually find my way around reasonably well. Some of the surrounding countryside, especially the coastline, is also really spectacular!
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(Coastline around Northwest Rocks)
We find a little cafe and I am pleasantly surprised that Nimbin might not have been the exception when it comes to dog-friendliness. Nando is perfectly welcome to sit with us, a theme that continues throughout NSW. (Something else nice in NSW is that they do not have this “billboard obsession” here, unlike in Queensland, where there is one every 5 meters, cluttering up the countryside.)
That night we decide to stay over at “Cousin Sally’s friend’s house. He has created this paradise on 5 acres over a number of years, clearing invasive weeds and replanting all forest. The house itself is one giant window to the outside, and in the morning, the first thing I see from my bed is this:
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The one huge regret I have is that over dinner, we totally forget why we decided to stay in the first place: to see the sugar gliders…
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(Google images)
There is nothing like meeting local people to get to know about a place, and most of those I meet have been here for a long time. Interesting but also very sad is listening to the stories of what “used to be” here, from wildlife to ways of life, now long lost: Koalas that disappeared around 60 years ago, the fish in the creek more recently through netting, the quality of the soil and water that have deteriorated ….
Disappearing Koalas do not surprise me. For every time I see a Koala awareness sign, I see a road widening project that does not allow for passages between the tracks of land it now divides…
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(Google image; I have no idea where this was taken, but I do notice the bullet holes…. Can you see them? I saw this a LOT in Tasmania, a few years back. Nothing is sacred to the Australia redneck…)
Ok, lecture over 🙂
All in all I stay 8 nights, mainly because I cannot arrive in Sydney before Sunday 9 June, when my friend there is home again. Although it should have been 9 nights, if on the last days things had not gone a little “weird”….being asked one minute to please stay longer and when I said I really had to get going, quite unwelcome the next. But without going into detail, I do hope that despite my slightly premature departure and choosing to spend one night in my car on the way to Sydney (the only one on my trip so far, so I am doing well), she can think of me as fondly and as a friend, as I will always think of her. Because we are all a “package deal”, with all our good points and faults. And I refuse to let the way of our parting sour the experience, take away from the good times I feel we had or from the gratitude I will always feel for having been given a wonderful place to stay.

As I am driving out of town, a song plays: “You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone…” (It’s actually called “Miss Atomic Bomb”, by The Killers)

That day Brisbane gets 20mm of rain; but the sky is not the only one to cry, as I am leaving with a big smile, a fresh supply of hugs, an unattainable dream and just a few more tears than I had anticipated.

Brisbane itself is certainly not worth crying over; I have been here before, and this time I don’t even bother going back into the centre. I have always found it a little soulless… I suppose I like “old stuff”, and here there is almost none of that. A look down from Mt Coot-tha on the last day is a pleasant alternative:

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(Cafe at Mt Coot-tha lookout)

I have been promised “some of the nicest scenery” for my drive today, along with a conflicting “it does not usually rain here this time of year”… Well it does now, but I still get to see glimpses of how beautiful the countryside becomes as I make my way towards Nimbin and some really quirky sights dispel the last of my own black clouds:

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(Car wreckers somewhere on the Gold Coast)

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(Somewhere in the Tweed Valley; google image taken on a brighter day)

It’s hard to believe that these winding roads I am driving on now, with hills, gentle rivers, lush meadows and grazing cows are in the same country, or even the same planet as the dusty, red dirt roads, the unforgiving heat and the vast expanse of wilderness that used to be my home.

As I am driving, I look out for the sign that will announce I have finally left Queensland behind and am now in New South Wales but I don’t see it. I stop at a service station and ask: “What state am I in?” which is met with a confused look from the attendant, so I have to clarify: “Queensland or NSW?” It turns out I am now well inside NSW, but nobody here seems to feel the need to broadcast this fact.

But you can tell. Things have changed. People are friendly again here in the country, and it takes me about half an hour before I manage to detach myself from the conversation I am having with a total stranger in the servo. And there is an increasing amount of coulour: signs advertising organic stuff, arts, meditation, music. Even the pot holes on the road have had multicoloured rainbow circles drawn around them. The whole drug aspect in Nimbin holds no attraction for me, but it is nearly the weekend, and I am looking forward to hopefully catching some live music again for the first time in ages.

I get to my friend’s place just before she does and take the time to quickly snap a few first impressions:

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(The driveway, lined with bamboo)

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(views up and down the road from the driveway)

I let Nando hop out of the car with the words: “This is paradise. Do what you like, because I know you won’t do any harm.” He is loving it instantly and we go and greet some of the other inhabitants on the block:

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(Cows; two mothers with respective calf. Nando has met some in the past and while curious, has gotten on with them quite well.)

The cow introduction goes well. A little mutual sniffing; then a cow moves a bit abruptly and Nando takes a flying leap towards me, nearly knocking me over. I am please he shows this much respect; a little fear is good, so he won’t take liberties later. I am tempted to let him close enough to the electric fence to reinforce this attitude, but decided against it.

Niceties out of the way, we have a little wander around and just as Nando is in mid-poo, Emma comes driving in and ends his pleasures prematurely. After the greetings of humans and both our dogs, we settle in on the verandah for a well deserved catch up and cuppa.

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(Emma’s hut)

It’s not long before the owners of the block come home and add yet another (rather wide-screen) dog to the mix. It also seems to be cow feeding time. They are by now getting quite excited and restless. And before any of us know what exactly happened, there we have it: the “cow incident”. One big brown dog is now running through the paddock, along with Emma’s dog who at least comes back to us fairly quickly. Four panic stricken cows run blindly and mooing in distress. No amount of whistling and shouting can stop Nando now. Knowing I can never outrun my dog I don’t even try but am grateful that Emma does.

In the end, the “incident” ends as quickly as it started. Four cows, now cornered, stop running and so does my dog. There are no flesh wounds, and I am fairly sure it was never about “hunting” but rather spurred on by the presence of yet another dog, a great game of “I could catch you if I wanted to”. The fact that cows in contrast to dogs don’t think this is fun, is obviously lost on him unlike the owners who, understandably, are not well pleased at all! In the absence of a rather deep hole to disappear into, I eat some very humble pie and put Nando on a long lead, aware that he still needs to do the other half of his poo, which with him not used to being tied up, is looking increasingly unlike now.

To get away from it all we decide to drive into Nimbin to at least have a look around. With Nando now no longer a free dog, I cannot see how we can stay. I had planned on a bout 3 or 4 days, and we still are welcome, but it would not be fair on him. So I send a message to a friend’s cousin near Kempsey (who I have never met before) to see if we can come early. We can and at least I now know where my next bed is again.

Nimbin is like no other place you will ever visit. There is so much colour!

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(Google images)

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(Nimbin “Hemp Embassy”)

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(Rainbow Lane)

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(Nimbin Street Code – click on picture to read)

The street code seems sensible to me and might work for all I know, except for the dog aspect, when it comes to leaving them at home. There are dogs, off lead, everywhere in this town but it does not seem to be a great problem. Nando, who only half an hour ago had become temporarily uncontrollable, is now walking next to me as good as gold and waits for my permission to cross the road. And this is wise, as there are a good few cars. Also: the chicken does indeed cross the road here! But chickens and Nando have always gotten on well, so there is no problem. More amazing maybe is the fact that despite there being a few dozen dogs here there still is no problem, as the chicken goes about its business in the streets of Nimbin, quite undisturbed. (But because it is now dusk and the chicken black, there is no photo).

Back at the hut, Emma and I now only have one evening to talk too much (with me being fascinated that it is now cold enough to see my own breath, for the first time in years!). Although there is still breakfast. I leave leaving late, feeling ever so slightly hard done by. But while I could leave tied Nando up for the duration, I did promise him at the beginning of our trip that I would always do the best by him, and right now the best by him is to be elsewhere. I still can’t believe he did this. He is more known for his love of birdwatching than the chasing of cows. But he did and eventually, around lunchtime, I can delay no more. It is a 5 hour drive or more after all and not having seen him “do” anything, I am worried that Nando is by now quite constipated, despite me taking him for a late night lead walk, which only resulted in me covering my flash, new boots in muddy clay. A quick detour via the post office to pick up the box with my “warmer clothes” that has arrived from Broome and we are on the road again. I know that my next place is some kind of farm, but hold on to the fantasy that there might be no cows. As I will find out, there are. 26 of them actually……

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(Nando pretending to be harmless while dreaming of cows)

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(Tinker with good cow manners, but not so good couch manners ;))

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(Tree with cute little daisy flowers)