Closing the Circle

It is hard to believe that we just finished packing for the last time on our big adventure; although certainly not our last time. Too many new places on our must visit list. As with all learning, learning about the world through travel has only made us aware of how much more there is to learn.

I can’t yet find words, at least not concise ones, to capture the welter of feelings right now: Excitement to be back home and to see friends and family again. Apprehension about all there is to do. We sold two cars the day we left on the trip; we’ll need to buy one when we get back. There is another feeling like a distant cousin of grief, an apprehension of future loss, that comes from knowing that our family time will be shared out and fractured; that we won’t be waking each day to tackle another foreign travel challenge or see and learn about things that until now we only knew through documentaries or books, or didn’t know at all. The adrenaline rush of a South East Asian street crossing, to be replaced by the normalcy of stop signs and traffic rules that we understand. Even on days when we were not our best, when our amygdalytic guard dogs got right out to the ends of their chains, we were still rolling in ‘hopefully not just once in a lifetime’ experiences. And while there has been homesickness and friends and family have been greatly missed, it will be strange not to be traveling.

The one-liner of the evening came from Oliver, when we were sorting out our snack bag, with its collection of wet wipes, plastic spoons, zip-locks, and mystery crumbs, when a ‘fruitolino’ surfaced. “Oh, boy, I think we’ve had this since Panama, can we have it?” The labelling was from the Helvetic Confederation, meaning that we had not had it since last September, but relatively recently, from early January. So it was fresh. Of course we could have some. It tasted of dates, and was just a little nutty.

Sydney and Beyond

We arrived in Australia after an easy flight from KL — only 6hrs., departing 11:30pm, arriving next morning. Before a friend could pick us up, we encountered our first major sticker shock: $35 for two coffees, three muffins, and a scone. Sure, it was airport coffee kiosk pricing, but after getting lunch for the whole family for less than that in Kuala Lumpur, it was a little unsettling. We are grateful to our friends Denton and Evie, and their two kids, who have shared their house and dinner table with us, and shown us around town. We are really fortunate to have had them as guides and interpreters. Sydney is beautiful and highly liveable, one of those rare spots that combines hills, forest, sea, and all the attractions of a major world city. Oh, and the coldest winter in decades? Still only a light jacket and sunscreen; careful you don’t run into a palm while you’re texting.

We’ve been to Taronga Zoo, Luna Park, The Rocks, Queen Victoria Building, Botanic Gardens, New South Wales Art Museum, and walked around various neighborhoods and several gorgeous beaches. We’ve been to suburban soccer games and a couple of movies, and enjoyed a wide range of food, including a Kangaroo Steak for yours truly.

A different sort of treat was meeting up with David and Stacee, whom we met in Peru. Yes, four hours up the Amazon. We piranha fished together, zip lined through the canopy, and swapped tales of a survival overnight in the jungle. In Sydney, David kindly took a day off to drive us down to Royal National  Park, along the coastal highway, and down to Stanwell Park, where we paid homage to Lawrence Hargreaves an earlier pioneer in human flight. Then we had an awesome Pakistani/Indian meal in New Town and finished off a fine day with some otherworldly gelato at Cow and Moon. Later that weekend, we also got to see a little bit of one of David’s rugby matches at the Leichhardt Oval. After tea (what else?) Corey stayed late at Dick’s pub with David, Stacee and another friend for a televised rugby union match between South Africa and Australia. In some exciting last minute action, the Wallabies won it. I got to learn a lot about the game, with lots of half-time discussion of cricket and — Stacee’s sport — netball, thus soaking up some quintessentially Aussie culture. Okay, I may have also swilled a few pints of Tooheys Old, but I wasn’t driving.

We left Sydney for a five night stay on Lady Elliott Island, which is really an atoll sitting 40mi off the coast, on the southern edges of the Great Barrier Reef. We took our friends’ kids with us, and all had a blast. So on this tiny ‘island’ that you can walk around in 45 minutes, we snorkeled, Jenni and Audrey dove, and we enjoyed informative talks, reef walks and more. It is both whale and manta migration season, so we had lots of amazing experiences. Snorkeling with giant manta rays, 12-15′ across, the most graceful ton of creature you’ll ever see, with whale songs in the background. Some of us almost got into the water quickly enough to swim with a humpback that came within a few yards of our boat, but then disappeared silently into the blue. Beneath the water we saw several kinds of sharks, rays, eels, and more types of fish and coral than we could count. While having breakfast or lunch, or enjoying a sunset, we watched humpbacks rolling and ocassionally breaching, or tail slapping and spouting for about as long as we cared to sit and watch. On our snorkel outings, we saw several whales pass just a few yards away from our boat. Overall, an incredible experience.

We’ve been back in Sydney hammering away at the last few chunks of homeschooling, helping our friends pack up for a big move, and doing some more sight seeing. Today we went to a Koala Park, then drove out to West Head in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park where we spotted several wallabies in the wild! The first one we saw jumped out of the bush just ahead of the car and ran away from us down the road in a high speed blast before slipping under the brush and brambles.

Tomorrow we will see a production of Romeo and Juliet geared for school kids, by the Bell Shakespeare Company in the iconic Sydney Opera House. Then we’ll walk through the city one last time, and head home (to our friend’s house) to pack. This time, as our great voyage comes to a close, the packing is different. But more on that in another post.

Sydney, good on ya!