This is it. My last night Down Under.
In the past month and a half I have traveled to 16 different cities in two surprisingly different countries: Sydney, Melbourne, Christchurch, Queenstown, Franz Joseph, Greymouth, Nelson, Picton, Wellington, Waitomo, Rotorua, Onemana, Coromandel, Auckland, Cairns, Brisbane, and back to Sydney, not counting the islands, beaches, and forests I’ve visited along the way. I’ve taken four ferries, one at night. I’ve flown on seven planes. Tomorrow will be my eighth. I’ve driven approximately 2,418 kilometers (1502 miles) through some of the most breathtakingly beautiful, insanely winding, meticulously speed-monitored roads I’ve ever seen. I’ve taken countless trains and buses, and walked many, many miles. I’ve swam at three beaches and four reefs, in two seas and one new ocean. I have crossed multiple bridges by foot, car, and train. I am tan, but was never burned. I have walked in the rain, but never gotten soaked. I have eaten some of the most delicious food, discovered some of the most wonderful ciders, and imbibed some of the best coffee I’ve ever had. I am full, but not stuffed. Satisfied, but still curious. Healing, but not whole.
I have been told that it’s good to want things. I don’t want to leave. I’m not ready to say goodbye to this new world and touch down in my old one, even for a short while, even though I would like nothing more than to shed this turtle shell of a pack and wash everything it contains. I want to hide out for a little longer in plain sight somewhere where no one knows me and that’s okay.
I find it hard to believe that a month and a half has tripped past me. That’s why I started the list up above. I needed proof that I’d done a lot in order to justify the time, whipped like tablecloth out from under my place setting. To you it might feel like a long time, but that’s what happens when you stand still and watch it go by on the clock in the corner of the screen. You can chalk that up to things I don’t miss. Except you. I miss you.
It still amazes me that I can walk down the street here and feel completely invisible. I had this silly idea that Australia would notice me the moment I arrived, probably in the same way that people feel when they arrive in Los Angeles. “I’m here! I’m ready for my fame and fortune!” But the thing about being seen is the world has no reason to see you unless you do something worth looking at. I continue to be happy that I can choose when to be seen and when not to. I’m also happy that I’ve gained a better understanding of how I contribute to my own anonymity and visibility by being who I am.
It doesn’t surprise me that my favorite stops along the way were the places where I knew people or met people off of whom I could bounce my thoughts and ideas. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy every place simply for its newness, it’s more that my remembering brain has an extra fondness for the reinforcement of conversation in the places where I had the most.
As I sit here in rain-soaked Sydney, my brief overnight stop before heading out, I am happy to be inside for a moment, listening to the whoosh and spit of the coffee machine and the collective gibberish of foreigners chatting. I spent what was left of my time today re-treading familiar haunts, slurping up soup dumplings from that place I loved on the fifth floor of the Eye, drinking coffee at the foot of the Opera House, and watching the night ferries trace their established paths in and out of Circular Quay. I was planning to walk the Harbour Bridge tonight, but the slippery drizzle of rain prevented me from spending yet another $200 on an unforgettable experience. To think I was too afraid to try it when I arrived is laughable now. I’m 43 days into being a local here. I can scale mountains and dive with sharks. I can guide newbies into the right train stations and bus stops. I can coach Brazilians on job finding locations in Brisbane. I can hop from dock to dingy to boat and back again. I have mastered the delayed gratification of jumping between wifi hotspots. I prefer flat whites to long blacks, Cherry Ripes are nice, and if you want to put my scrambled eggs on top of my toast that’s okay too. The answer to “How are you going?” is “Good, how are you?” And if someone says, “Good on ya!” they mean it as a compliment of the highest order. “No worries” is always the right thing to say if someone apologizes, and I no longer have that many worries, especially when the sun is shining. There is a pleasant sanity to the patterns here, and even though it’s expensive, it was all worth it, every cent.
My email alerts have reminded me that my next adventure starts on Friday when I return to LAX to fly the other direction to yet another continent, my third this year. I wish Panama counted as having visited a fourth continent, but I’ll just have to settle for three this time around. It’s April, however. The year is still young.
This time, I have company. Evie and I convene in Madrid, where we’ll celebrate Easter and our collective wisdom earned over our 40 years on this planet. From Madrid, we’ll head south towards Seville and Grenada, and then east into Portugal to see Lisbon and Porto. Knowing us, we’ll eat too much and sleep too little and that’s just fine by me. Our last city will be Barcelona to gaze up at Gaudi’s masterpieces in built form. Just as I did with Sydney, we’ll hit up Madrid for one last hurrah and then we’ll part ways, Ev back to SF, me on to London. I booked an overnight train trip to Brussels in the middle my last leg, because 20 years ago when I tried to visit the city of my mother’s birth, a train strike prevented me from seeing anything more than the interior of the train station, because I preferred to get stuck in Paris instead of Brussels. It felt right to try again this time around. Touristy as it may be, I need to see Mannekin Pis with my own eyes, and walk around imagining what it must have been like in 1947-50. Plus, there are waffles and frites to enjoy, as well as chocolate. I’m only a little glad that I can’t drink beer, but I may try one, just to say I did. And because I think my brother might kill me if I didn’t have at least one sip.
In London, I have my friend Aleks to visit. And Brighton to see again, 20 years after attending University of Sussex. There’s the Tate, the Tate Modern, Notting Hill, the London Eye, midday pub lunches, and all of the other self-deprecating, standoffish, posh, dodgy, alcoholic and other oh-so-British things a person can do and see. Home isn’t home again until late on May 13th, when I have to admit that this adventure is on pause while I round up another year and earn some more cash to set out again.
Let this post stand as notice, I won’t be staying put forever. My soul is too restless, too curious, and too hungry to stand still for too long. To those of you who express jealousy at my adventures, I double dog dare you to put your money where your mouth is and try it out for a bit. It’s okay if you don’t like it, but first, try. Go somewhere safe if you have to, but go. Break out of your patterns and step at least one foot outside of your comfort zone. If that works, try the other foot. Or don’t. But if you don’t, be okay with that. Dig in and build a wonderful life around you, for you. Static or mobile, a home is a home. Don’t for one second think that anything will erect itself for your enjoyment just from wishes. Be active in the pursuit of your own happiness. Add it up, experience by experience, laughter stacked upon more laughter. Make it from mistakes and accidents, plans and careful intentions. When I started this trip, I was shattered and weak. Cruel people had chipped away at my strength and sapped the energy from my stores. I was giving out more than I could take in, despite the Herculean efforts of the other kind people I chose to surround myself with. The kind ones let me push off of them like the walls of a pool as I swam lap after lap before leaving. Quitting created the earthquake and the tidal wave that slammed me out of the water. Flying away gave me perspective. Traveling gave me strength. Solitude gave me space. Introspection started the conversation. And the tide is bringing me back again. The best part of all of this, everything good and bad, is that I did it. It’s all mine. And now, I can start fresh. I swept the stoop, and organized the house. Tomorrow is eternal, literally. I land before I took off. But I’ll still be in the future, and that’s all I can possibly ask for after this. A future with the past stirred into it for good measure, with two continents and counting out cruising by slowly in the darkness out the window below.