Thursday, March 27, 2014

Never Say Never

Pebbly Beach, New South Wales

Between my first and second year in college I went with my Mom to visit my sister in Barcelona, who was studying abroad. It was my first trip overseas and I loved it. The three of us traveled around Spain, France, Italy, and Switzerland for a little over a month. I vividly remember being on the tourist bus with my Mom in Barcelona close to the main drag Avenida Diagonal with Muntaner Street saying, I could never live in Barcelona. It seemed like too big of a city for me,…too many people, and too much stimulation. Never say never because 4 years later, ironically on August 23, 2002, I went to Barcelona on a year scholarship and never returned home! Ironically that very area where I was on the bus became my new neighborhood. I spent 10 years in Barcelona, a place that I said I would never live.

This memory came to my mind today as I had another wonderful day cycling in Australia. I can’t seem to get enough of this country. Although the terrain is challenging and the roads aren’t ideal for cycling (ie awful drivers), there is plenty about this country that has won me over, and yet, this was the one destination that I wasn’t too incredibly excited about when planning my trip. I threw Australia into my route because it’s New Zealand’s neighbor, plus I had friends I wanted to visit down under. After all, you can’t travel to New Zealand and not go to Australia, especially after making it halfway around the world on bike. But Australia, in my mind, was flat and dry, filled with tumbleweed-like thorn bushes with kangaroos jumping around and snakes slithering on the plains.
Watson Bay, Sydney
I don’t know where I came up with my mental image of Australia, but for a country I had little or no prior expectations, it has blown me away! First of all, the landscapes are diverse and stunning and I’ve only begun to skim the surface. Yes, The Great Ocean Road and the 12 Apostles were remarkable, but the Victorian Alps were pretty incredible peaks as well at the Blue Mountains. They aren’t the type of mountains you find in Europe or Oregon, with snow-capped peaks all year round, but they are tall enough to make for picturesque scenery and challenging to ride. Then there are the Australian beaches, again, a landscape that completely took me by surprise! In Catalunya they have a “Costa Brava” or a “Wild Coast,” but that is nothing in comparison to Australia’s coastline. There is cove after cove and inlets galore here, making for a surfer’s paradise, and all sorts of peninsulas perfect for sea kayaking. The ocean is crystal clear turquoise in many places and the sand varies from white to golden orange, but the surf here is powerful and truly wild.

Cows, cows, and more cows!

Australia also has plenty of countryside and that is my favorite scenery. It is vast, rolling, and peaceful. I’ve been lucky to see it after the first rain of the season and the colors are lush and alive, a contrast with the bright blue sky above filled with puffy brilliantly white clouds. A few Aussies warned me that the last 300 to 400 kilometers along the Princes Highway heading towards Melbourne has “nothing”. However, their definition of “nothing” is definitely something for me! I drool over this scenery! It gives me a sense of tranquility and contentment I haven’t found elsewhere.

New South Wales countryside

Overlooking the Geerigong Bay, New South Wales

Like I said, my mental image of this country was flat, flat, flat. I blame the Thomson Bike Tour clients for that prejudice. They are always looking for sympathy when they come to Europe and let us know that they haven’t been able to properly train for our tours because they don’t have any worthwhile climbs in Australia. I won’t believe their sob stories anymore; I have found nothing but hills over here from little 4% gradients to huge 18% that make riding tough! Ever since I arrived down under, my GPS on average hits over 1,400 meters of climbing every day, some days have reached as high as 2,000. I didn’t have this many consecutive days of climbing since Northern Vietnam and Laos, not even in New Zealand. I’m hoping after all the hills I’ve had on the coast, Tasmania, will feel flat (although I’m sure that is wishful thinking on my part).
Graham posing for the photo at the rest area
The people I’ve encountered also make this place special. How can you not have a good day when everyone calls you “Luv”. “G’Day, Luv!” “You’re looking good Luv” “No worries, Luv!” They even have this odd custom of telling you a price and what you owe at a checkout stand and add a “thank you” to it before you even hand them the money. But since they stick Luv on the end of it, it makes me smile. People have gone out of their way to take care of me, treat me, and make sure that I am happy. In fact, I went for about 3 weeks here in Australia, without spending more than 20 dollars because everyone was so kind and generous and wanted to treat me. That, or I must have looked like a pretty sorry story on my bike! For instance, when I was out with Clint, he asked me what I wanted for dinner, anything!!….Any craving I had to start my big ride the next day and he was treating (for the second day in a row)! The Faulkners never once let me get out my wallet, nor did their friends, and my hosts have been absolutely phenomenal!

Which brings me to another thing I like here….The Aussie men! Wow, wow, and wow!!! I’ve never met such sincere, friendly gentlemen. From young to old, the men here are delightful! Kersti and Stu’s sons were so well mannered and polite, helping me with my bike and treating me like a nice young lady. A few days ago I met Graham, the caretaker at a rest area. He had a great sense of humor for a 68-year-old man. We got to talking and before I knew it an hour had gone by, Here, I had only needed to make a quick bathroom stop. In the end he told me he needed to run because his wife was at home and was waiting for him for mad sex. What a laugh! I insisted on taking his picture, which is when he told me “You’ll steal my soul, Melissa!” The guys I encountered in SE Asia were bold, blunt, and relentless. After asking if I was alone, married or with kids, they basically asked me to stay with them. Indeed it was flattering and quite comical, but here, the Aussies I have met that are my age, are much more subtle in their ways; true gentlemen and ever so enjoyable to get to know. My most recent dating experience comes from Catalan men, who for some reason are scared by such an active and self-sufficient woman, or at least that is my theory. But the Australian men seem to welcome with open arms a lady who is outdoorsy, active, and can stand on her own, not needy of a man. Finally, finally finally!!!

Lastly, a country doesn’t make top on my list of places to cycle if the food isn’t up to par, but again, Australian cuisine has surpassed my expectations. Australia is the land of “foodies”, especially in the big cities like Melbourne and Sydney. I thought I was back in SE Asia in Melbourne when I visited a night market with my hosts in Melbourne. There was everything from Spanish Paella, Chinese dim sum, to curries, and laksa. The ethnic cuisine, because of the cultural diversity here, is unbelievable! In Sydney you can find any sort of Asian food you can imagine in Chinatown, not to mention Australia is filled with a huge Greek and Italian population and likewise their restaurants. I’ve even tried Australian beef and kangaroo meat, which is really quite flavorful! I’ve tried the Australian pies, which are ok, but their sweet treats are to die for, as well as the coffee! It took me about a week to sample all the different types of coffee and the way of preparing it until I finally settled on my preferred coffee drink. The seasonal fruit has again become my “go-to snack on the road and grapes are becoming my new obsession, similar to jackfruit in SE Asia!

Here I am forming my opinion about Australia before I even set off to Tasmania which is suppose to be the gem of Australia. I think so highly of this country beforehand, I can’t imagine how I’ll feel at the end of my three weeks over there. So you see, you should never say never, because you just don’t know how that is going to come back to get you.

Australia is a place I was never really was dying to explore, yet it has captured my heart and soul (like Graham stated). I can only imagine that if I spent 10 years in Barcelona after saying I would NEVER

No comments:

Post a Comment