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November 29, 2011

Australia, Coffs Harbour

It has been great to visit Leone in Coffs Harbour, where the forest meets the sea, a city of 100,000, halfway between Sydney and Brisbane. Pristine beaches of endless sand, excellent food, memorable dining, a visit to a farm called “Kiwi Down Under” that is a kiwi plantation, were all part of wonderful new experiences and even better, new friendships. The beauty of Australia, new sounds explored, and wildlife discovered has been a series of unexpected delights. A special day of touring into the Dorrigo Hills, led us to where waterfalls abound, into a World Heritage Rainforest Preserve that is special because of the primitive vegetation is as it was millions of years ago.

Pictured here is a Bush Turkey, an inhabitant here, and also pictured is a touching encounter with a kangaroo and her joey, who ended up keeling over backward into the pouch and having a nap with his two feet sticking out and toes dangling nonchalantly as mama grazed.The visit concludes with a magical sunset stroll on Muttonbird Island, the glow in the west resonating with the kindle in my heart alight with the wonderful gifts of friendship and warm hospitality.

Leaving with mixed feelings I note that Australia has the most amazing trains. They are far more comfortable than buses, they have hot meals, bar, and Devonshire tea with hot scones, cream and jam. It is a bit like something out of an Agatha Christie novel. It is with sadness I depart for I have made some amazing friendships here. I ride south to collect my passport and leave for the next part of my journey, New Zealand. Australia has exceeded all of my expectations. As it is said by the first people’s here, “Reverence for all creatures is the dreaming.” Australia, you have restored my faith in humankind.

November 21, 2011

Australia, Melbourne

Negotiating a city of 4.5 million is never easy and I felt turned around in Melbourne and did not like the hostel that I landed in. I was sad to have to part with Sarah and acquaint myself with the city alone. Melbourne was truly worth getting to know. It is a city that endorses the arts and they seem to flourish here. Elegant tall buildings line a river and there are parks, sculptures, and trees to intrigue and make the experience as comfortable as a city can be. I am happy to report that there was a stunning art exhibition of aboriginal art that had been recently funded and which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was able to connect into some tours. One of them was “The Ocean Road” a curving coastline revealing the famous Twelve Apostles, stacks similar to the state of Oregon.

I saw koalas in their natural habitat in a manna gum tree forest. It was a day that took me through coastal towns so I feel I have a good sense of half of the entire coastline of Australia now. I was surprised when I had an alpaca spit on me. I asked what it meant. I was told it means that the alpaca liked me and that I should go out and buy a lottery ticket as it is a good omen. Alpaca spit is not something I want to go through again, thank you.

I also went on tour to see the penguin march. These penguins are known as the Blue Penguin or Fairy Penguin or Little Penguin. They are the littlest penguins in the world. I wasn’t prepared at all for what I saw. They came out of the sea at dusk, furtively, for they instinctively are avoiding birds of prey. They come in “rafts” together to the beach. They are bringing food they caught to their nests on the land where their young are. They march up in lines to the nests. It was an astonishing site. What was hard though was that about 700 people were right on the nesting grounds on a platform. There were people and penguins everywhere and as darkness fell I felt I was in a strange dream. I couldn’t understand why the penguins were not afraid of people and I couldn’t understand why people were allowed to be here. Penguins were marching all over the sidewalks and up into the parking lot and under the cars. I started to cry. It was the people being so horrible. They are not supposed to take photos because the flash blinds the penguins and they are unable to find their way to their young. People however do not seem to respect that. It was one of those terrible situations demonstrating how poorly we can behave as a species. I am to visit a friend next I met in Vanuatu next who lives in Coffs Harbour. In addition to Sarah, Leone has been a great support. Friends in foreign lands are extra especially wonderful.

November 14, 2011

Australia, Katoomba & Orange

“An immense gulf is unexpectedly seen through the trees… this kind of view was to me quite novel and extremely magnificent.”
The Voyage Of The Beagle 1836
Charles Darwin
The Blue Mountains were named so because they appear blue. A sort of haze hangs over them that refracts the light. Katoomba is on a plateau and a valley falls away from it of enormous scale. A fire burned here a month ago around the many trails in the national park that burned right up to the town side. Another fire was set two weeks ago in a different part of the Blue Mountains, hence it is thought it is arson. Today we walked through the trails and saw immense waterfalls and a man, pictured here, played his didgeridoo.

It is apparent to me that the aboriginal presence and heritage is barely invisible, minimally incorporated into the signage and presentations. It would very much enrich the experience if there was more inclusiveness. I am working on the hopeful theory that this most ancient culture is able to keep its secrets intact and that it could likely survive long into the future. Much in this landscape is sacred to the aboriginal peoples. Pictured here are three rocks called The Three Sisters and the story goes in aboriginal lore that they were transformed into rock and the medicine man who did it died unexpectedly and was unable to transform them back. There seems to be a connection to the Pleiades in the lore but how that is related was not clear to me. This area is a popular tourist destination and historically it was a holiday retreat for the rich and fashionable. There are buildings here that we have been admiring that carry the grandeur of the Victorian era in their architecture.
You may want to know that KD Lang did a knock-your-socks-off permormance in Sydney and got a standing ovation for Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and many other ovations besides. We attended an outdoor sculpture show beside the sea in Bondi, with installation pieces that interplayed with the ocean environment with sculptures represented by an international community that went on for some kilometers. We are now staying with friends of Sarah’s in Orange, which is inland. It is absolutely charming here in an “Out Of Africa” kind of a way. Yesterday we had a picnic. I was enchanted. In addition to their home they have purchased an Anglican Church and they have converted it into a country retreat. The building is made of stone and was built in 1875. It was an adorable and amazing space. Now I want one. The Australians continue to amaze me with how hospitable and kind they are. Sadly my time for parting with Sarah, a great friend, is drawing near.

November 9, 2011

Tasmania, Hobart

As I process my thoughts and experiences during my travels I am moved to say that Tasmania has exceeded all of my expectations mostly because of the people and the purity of the beauty here.

On a personal note I am deeply moved that Sarah would hostess me to this extent. I am also deeply indebted to Madeline who is looking after my affairs by making the trip into Victoria, British Columbia, with my birth certificate in order that a new passport may be issued from the consulate in Sydney, Australia. I am also amazed by how kind people are that I have met here. It has been incredibly healing for me.

 Last night I read this:

“A mujaheddin fighter once told me that fate gives all of us three teachers, three friends, three enemies, and three great loves in our lives. But these twelve are always disguised, and we can never know which one is which until we have loved them, left them, or fought them,” from Shantaram by Gregory Roberts. These words struck me deeply. Characters in our lives can play more than one of these roles in ways that invoke challenge in integral and critical aspects. Upon thinking about this I am always surprised by who ends up where.
Mount Wellington

We are being hosted by friends of Sarah’s in a home with a lovely garden. We have been meeting tons of people. Sarah has performed in an "a cupella" group. We have explored the famous Salamanca Market and also hiked on nearby Mount Wellington. Hobart is lovely I have decided, with a spacious, clear, and open feeling. There is a strong British feel to the city as well as being characterized by a strong component of sweet Victorian homes. I understand now why Sarah has chosen to make a life here. Today we are seeing an unusual and private art gallery, MONA. It is funded by someone who it is said who acquired his money through gambling on horse races. It is his private collection and it is reputed to have a strong theme of sex and violence in the contemporary art genre as well as exhibitions of  antiquities from all over the world.

I have been introduced to Rosellas, very pretty birds, and we have been watching then feeding. We are leaving Tasmania tomorrow and are headed for Katoomba, The Blue Mountains, on the eastern side of mainland Australia.

November 4, 2011

Tasmania, Freycinet National Park

Beautiful blue seas, red rocks, white beaches – we have been doing a lot of walking and hiking in this extraordinary beauty. Sarah has done a lot of camping here and knows the area really well so I have been fortunate to have her here to guide me. I would not have seen so much so comfortably otherwise. The rocks are the kind that seem to have a personality as though a spirit inhabited them.

We met a wallaby and also a spotted skink pictured here. A skink is able to shed his tail if he is caught by it and regenerate a new one. The people here continue to be incredibly kind and warm. We had dinner with a friend of Sarah’s and I felt like I got an intimate view of what life is like on the fringes of the park – perhaps a bit like home where one is subjected to influxes of tourism. I saw the biggest spider I have ever seen in my life come out of the trunk of our vehicle – I kept saying I am not afraid of spiders as it scuttled out of view while I was trying to catch my breath. This area was occupied prehistorically by the aboriginal peoples, the Toorernomairremener, but record of their life has not been documented and little is known of them from the time of contact.

Settlers used the middens as a matrix for making bricks which further destroyed physical records. Whales cruise by here on their way to southern oceans. The south-artic winds blow across Tasmania but on this the eastern shore it is more protected and temperatures tend to be a lot warmer. I am having a difficult time because I have lost my passport which is proving to be quite tricky and I am not sure how this is going to translate into what is trying to unfold for me. It is difficult to be calm. The policeman said his wife lost his, hers and their child’s passport along with 1,000 Euros in a Korean taxi cab and they got them back. I think that was to help cheer me up. Pictured here is a flower called “Pigface.” We are headed now back to Hobart, the main city of Tasmania, where Sarah has deep roots.

November 1, 2011

Tasmania, Sheffield

“A traveller without observation is like a poet without wings.”
Persian Poet

I write to you from the unlikely setting of a French chateau located in a beautiful valley in an area of rolling hills. We are guests of Elizabeth and Gilles, friends of Sarah’s and this is very much a working farm. I have made acquaintance with a number of interesting creatures as well.

Pictured here is no less than the pig used in the movie “Babe”, yes, I travel in high circles. We have been working in the garden, tending a sick goat, as well as visited a national park, a world heritage site, called Cradle Mountain. Cradle Mountain is where we picnicked and hiked around a lake that has an alpine type of setting. I saw my first wombat, a casually strolling kind of furry creature, pictured here. Wombats have no less than square scat which they leave to demarcate their territory on top of logs and rocks.

We also have seen more Echidna and Sarah is teaching me that when they are threatened they curl up in a ball and put down a muscle that makes them impossible to pry loose from the ground, much like a limpet to a rock. Sarah also says that she knows of two reports where the Tasmanian Tiger has been sited although the Tasmanian Tiger is considered extinct. This animal looks like a chesty large dingo with stripes and no mane. I have yet to see a Tasmanian Devil. The devils feed on road kill and are nocturnal. There are pockets of them in certain areas that are still not affected by the disease that is killing them. Sarah has worked with the devils in a conservation site and really likes them. Here where we are staying there are kookeburras and when they get going in unison they sound like laughing hyenas. We are getting ready to leave these good people who have been wonderful hosts. Next we travel to a very beautiful national park called Freycinet Park to the east.