Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Simple Life

Saturday was Derby Day in Melbourne and Tuesday was a city holiday due to “the race that stops a nation”…The Melbourne Cup. Women and men dress in their finest duds and proceed in droves to Flemington track where they dine on fine food, drink champagne, bet like crazy, and proceed to get smashingly drunk beyond comprehension.

From our perspective, it’s the first four day weekend that we have had and we decide to forget the races and head out of town and see the sites. Besides, we were invited to a friend’s beach house from Sunday through Tuesday. The beach house is in Walkerville which is near a gorgeous national park called Wilson’s promontory. It’s a jetty of land that was once a land bridge to Tasmania. It is green, lush, hilly, windy, and surrounded by the beautiful turquoise ocean.

The government wants to place a number of wind turbines in this area and the people are divided on whether they will allow this. There are many signs and bumper stickers that protest or promote wind energy on the Gippsland coast. It’s the evolution of paradise I guess.

Eric and I decide to leave on Saturday and stay somewhere along the coast that night in order to maximize the weekend. Of course it takes us way too long to get moving on Saturday and then we decide we should avoid any trouble by booking a room before we leave. There aren’t exactly a bunch of Motel 6’s in Australia and rooms can go fairly quickly. It becomes one of those fruitless searches that makes a person decide that they hate the internet. How can there be all of this information and none of it proves in any way useful?

Maybe we shouldn’t go? What if there is no room? Arghh. There is always a room, right? We are packed; we are ready…let’s just leave and see how it goes. Three hours and only 6 incorrect detours later, we arrive at a hotel somewhere within about an hour’s drive of our final destination. Mind you, the trip to Walkerville should have only taken 2.5 hours to begin with. We go into the hotel entrance and end up in the restaurant. We search every door and after finding the kitchen, break room and restrooms, we have to ask someone the location of the lobby. She gives us a blank stare in return. Apparently, hotel’s in small towns are not hotels…they are pubs…and we have just asked if we could sleep in the pub.
We hide our embarrassment and sneak out the back entrance.

We continue on from town to town and find every small motel and b and b to be full. Didn’t we know…this is the annual motorbike festival and rooms have been booked for ages? I’m reminded of just about every road trip I have ever taken with Laura O’Brien where we suffer this exact same fate. We have tried to visit small towns during the annual water ski weekend, tulip festival, art festival, ski racing weekend, and homecoming for the local college, etc. etc.

The shadows are getting long and now we are driving on small country roads that warn of wombat and kangaroo crossings. There is a third animal represented on the signs but we just can’t make out what it is….? Kangaroos are most active at dusk so I’m officially on roo watch as Eric is driving. We pass through the towns of Leongatha, Koonwarra, Korumbura, Lang Lang and Meeniyan and finally pull into one of the motels with a brightly glowing “no vacancy” sign and ask for mercy. Eric sends me in to do the doughy-eyed-pathetic-American-needs-help-in-your-country-thing. The man gives me a list of motels with phone numbers and even calls around a bit for us. At long last we ring a motel that has a cancellation and the room is ours. We stay for the night in a little town called “Foster” which makes us giggle because it seems so Australian and because they have Foster’s beer signs everywhere yet none of the drink is available. The room is something out of a Hitchcock movie but we are glad to have it. We head to the local pub and have a good meal and a couple beers (again, not Foster’s). We shoot a few games of pool and hang out with the locals. At about 10 pm we join in with the mass dart game put on by the bar’s owner and the area high school kids. The owner of the pub explains to us he encourages the kids to come every Friday and Saturday night to host a game and, he says, “It keeps them away from all the booze out there.” It sounds quaint and benevolent until you think about it and the irony hits you that all these kids are now hanging out in the town bar, and most of them are drinking.

We retire at a decent hour because we have plans to rise early and get in a good long hike in the National Park before the others arrive. However, that night the rain starts in and it rains as if to cure Australia’s draught once and for all. It rains through the night and by the next morning someone must have turned the nozzle on high because we have to dash the 5 feet to our car just so we don’t get completely drenched. We spend most of the morning sitting in a delightful cafĂ© drinking delicious latte’s, reading the paper, and eating the worst eggs benedict on the planet (Caesar salad dressing is NOT a substitute for hollandaise sauce, people!).

November 4 marks one year since the death of our beloved golden retriever Tofte and remembering her by waiting out the rain in a small town bakery and coffee shop (which also contains a strangely placed stage since it doubles for the town theater) isn’t all bad. We explore a bit of the town of Foster as well as the nearby town of Fish Creek before the call comes in that our friends have arrived and we are to meet them at the beach house.

The beach house is fashioned in 60’s style as if to say, “Austin Powers was just here.” Its tangerine orange, kelly green, and mustard yellow interior is cozy and warm with a big deck overlooking the sea and the promontory. Our friend Amanda (she’s from the US, but her Aunt is Aussie and this is her Aunt’s place) was standing on the deck and hand feeding wild bright red parrots. The beach house was one level, had sleeping arrangements for 8, and enough chairs to seat everyone comfortably around the wood burning stove. Basically, it was exactly what a cabin should be. There were five of us, but one
(Andrew) was from the area and would be staying with his parents on their farm just up the road.

The next day is cool and sunny and the crew spent the day hiking to the top of a mountain overlooking the park and the sea.
I know it was beautiful there because I saw the pictures of it.

I, unfortunately, spent the day driving back to Melbourne to help with a surgery and then back to Walkerville in the evening. Do I need to say more about this?
Probably not.

At some point when it is hot and sunny in the summer, we will rent camping gear and hike deep into the park and camp on the beach at a place called “Refuge Bay.” It is actually still quite cool at this time of year and most of the campers that we did see appeared wet and miserable…about as miserable as those lousy eggs benedict.

One of the weekend’s highlights was visiting Andrew’s family farm. This is the type of farm from a children’s storybook. If you could romanticize a farm and then create it in reality, this would be it. Now, Mom and Dad, you know I love you both…but if I could have grown up on this farm, I would be in heaven. And Bob and Gretchen, I must inform you that your son feels the same way.
For the sake of the family farm, Eric and I are hoping for adoption by the Landy family.

Imagine 2000 acres of lush green rolling hills that slope gradually down to a light blue sea. About 1 mile of sea is visible and beyond that Wilson’s Promontory rises up out of the ocean and touches the clouds. I took 20 pictures and none of them even come close to doing it justice.

We visited the farm on a sheep shearing day. Actually it was only a partial shearing for which the details are probably best left out of polite conversation. But, we did get to watch the dogs herd the flock and we watched the farm hands at work. The land was rather wet from the recent rain and our shoes were covered in all kinds of unmentionables. One of the girls in our group began laughing when she got stuck in the mud and said that she felt like Paris Hilton in the show “The simple life”.

Andrew’s parents took us in, fed us dinner, and gave us a proper tour. They are terrific company and very interesting people. We fed carrots to the horses and Andrew’s mom packed us a picnic basket of tea and cake which the five of us took down through the fields to an amazing expanse of beach. The beach was so beautiful that it was the spot his sister had chosen as her wedding site 5 years ago.

Never before have I seen a farm with a beachfront and ocean view.
It really was a place created from the imagination of a children’s book.

It’s nice to know that land so beautiful is only a short drive from here. We returned to Melbourne this evening and with horse races over, it’s back to work tomorrow. Sigh.