Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Time and Space

One of the many challenges of being in Peace Corps is that you don’t have your own space. You don’t realize it until you don’t have it, but a lot of what we do on a daily basis involves that space. When you own or rent a house or an apartment, which you are making your home for however long, you have that space to inhabit. You paint, decorate and redecorate, rearrange the furniture, plant flowers, mow the grass, buy stuff, have friends over for dinner or to watch the football game, have a pet, work on your hobbies, watch TV at night. When you don’t do any of those things, it leaves a lot of time to fill.

It differs for each volunteer – a few have their own apartments or houses – but most of us are in someone else’s home, and for every volunteer it’s always temporary. You know you’ll be going back with the two suitcases you came with and little else. In my case, I have a room in the house of a wonderful and kind family, but it’s not my space, and there’s only 290 square feet of it. That means that I have a lot of time and very little space.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

G'Day Mate!

Four days after I got back from American Samoa I went to Australia. I was only there for eight days, which wasn’t nearly long enough, but I’ll just have to go back again someday. I met my friend Rosi, from Colorado, in Brisbane and we explored together.

The first thing one is aware of on any trip flying easterly to Australia is the International Dateline. Such a weird thing – all of a sudden, poof! Yesterday never existed! Samoa is the last country before the dateline, so we have the last sunset on the planet here each day.

The first evening in my hotel room I took a hot shower, and that felt so good that I filled the bathtub and took a long, hot bath. Hot water will definitely be one of the things on my list of the things that I missed most while in Peace Corps! Then I got to watch the TODAY show, which came on at 4:00 am local time, which is when I awoke since it’s a three-hour time difference from Samoa. I know that showers and TV aren’t normally the highlights of one’s vacation, but when you don’t have either, they are appreciated!

The first day, Rosi and I drove north toward Noosa. Driving is really a challenge in Australia, not only because you’re driving on the “wrong side” of the road, but because they have roundabouts instead of stoplights. You are concentrating on watching traffic, and trying to stay in the correct lane, and then you have to look for a sign and make your way through the roundabout, and hopefully get on the right road. A couple of times we didn’t execute that entire process and had to back track, but ultimately we managed to get where we wanted to go and back again.

On a whim, we stopped at Mount Beerburrum and decided to walk the trail to the top. The sign said: “Steep Path.” Believe the signs in Australia! It was a paved trail, but it was nearly a 45º angle all the way to the top with no steps. Just like this: ∕ . All the way. It’s “only” 280 meters high and the hike is “only” 700 meters long, but it was tough. Our hearts were thumping and our lungs were pumping. It was one of those times when you wanted to go back, but you’d come so far that you didn’t want to go back. I wish I could say that the view from the top was worth it. It was a lovely 360º view of the surrounding farmland, the Glass House mountains, and the far away sea, but we needed more than “lovely” at that point. “Stupendous,” “magnificent,” maybe. But no. Nonetheless, we can say we climbed Mount Beerburrum and that was no small feat!

On our way to Noosa we also stopped at the iconic Australia Zoo, Steve Irwin’s legacy to Australia. It was fun. Australia’s animals are amazing of course! Although it was a treat to be able to walk amongst the kangaroos and even feed them out of your hand at the zoo, we also saw kangaroos grazing in the fields as we drove and even spotted a koala in a eucalyptus tree in one of the national parks.

We stayed for the next couple of days at Sunshine Beach at our “holiday apartment,” which is Australian for condo. We had an ocean view and rainbow lorikeets landing on the tree beside our balcony. They are incredibly beautiful birds with vivid red, green, blue, and orange feathers.

While I was there I had to buy a couple of long-sleeved shirts and a pair of canvas shoes, which I didn’t have in Samoa to bring with me. It’s late winter in Australia, but Brisbane is far enough north that the weather was mild. It was between 70º and 75º, but cooler at night than I’m used to.

We took a short flight to Lady Elliot Island, which is the only island in the Great Barrier Reef with a landing strip. We spent the day there and went out on a small boat. I was finally able to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef – one of the things on my “Bucket List.” (In case you haven’t heard that term – the things to do before I “kick the bucket.”) It was awesome!

There I was, floating in the Coral Sea, on the Tropic of Capricorn, blue sky above, crystal clear water below. I was in water about 20 meters deep, clearly able to see to the sunlit sand beneath. Vividly colorful fish were everywhere – yellow, orange, blue, striped, spotted, all of the above. I’ve snorkeled in Hawaii and Samoa, but this was special!

Other highlights – Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, a Picasso exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art, forest walks listening to marvelous birds, great food, fun shopping!

I go to New Zealand in October – how lucky I am!