Monday, August 29, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: Stranded in Christ Church at Midnight

Forever A Hillbilly: Stranded in Christ Church at Midnight:   Back from up north and burning up in Arkansas - I continue on with our New Zealand adventures.                                       ...

Stranded in Christchurch at Midnight

  Back from up north and burning up in Arkansas - I continue on with our New Zealand adventures.

 We went to the Maori Museum. The Maoris, of Indonesian descent, were the original New Zealanders. They are a large, very husky people, extremely strong. They were very athletic. We had noticed in Australia that football was left largely to Maoris, whites played Soccer. We talked to two young Maori men while admiring their Grandfather's carving display. Each brother probably weighed  four hundred pounds. An extremely large proportion of Indonesian men wind up in the National Football League in America. Many people in that part of the world feel they will someday dominate the NFL. I tend to agree. These people are sometimes called Kiwis, along with the bird and the fruit.

     We arrived at the airport early on Sunday morning. When we checked our luggage, we got a shock. We had now accumulated so much stuff that there was an extra fee of $75 on this domestic flight.  If our common sense had just kicked in, we would have just stored most of it there. But no, that's just too easy. I preferred to carry all of it around with us all over New Zealand. When we picked up our tickets for the 10:00 AM flight, we got another shock. The flight was PM, not AM! It was a long, expensive bus ride back to Auckland, so we decided to kill the day wandering the airport. We would arrive at Christchurch at midnight. Oh, well, just go with the flow. I heard the announcer lady say “Auckland,” with her cute little accent, so many times that day, that I began to fall in love with her voice before we flew out. I didn't tell Barbara.

     When we arrived at Christchurch, it was the last flight of the night and the airport was closing down. Our ride was not there. We had called our hire car man about the time mix-up, and he had assured us that his brother would be there. We moved our stuff out on the sidewalk. The lady guard who locked the door on the way out stopped to talk to us. Barb explained our situation to her. And, as we “had on clean clothes and looked somewhat neat,” she took pity on us and waited with us outside until about 1 AM, when a nice lady driver showed up and took us to our motel. It was nice, and the car was fine the next day, and, since that was the end of the negative aspects of our car deal, it turned out fine.
     We toured Christchurch. It was a beautiful city. I say “was,” because, much of it has since been destroyed by a large earthquake, including the totally beautiful Cathedral we loved, and it's amazing gardens.

     We headed out across sheep country. New Zealand has vast expanses of open, rolling green hills with snow-capped mountains in the background. Millions of newborn lambs frolicked about. Barbara had me stop the car, time after time, trying to get a good face shot of the lambs, but almost every time she got  tails and heels. Miles of thick, green hedges, fifteen feet tall, perfectly trimmed, stretched across the rolling hills for windbreaks. In several places, we saw tall fences enclosing elk.  I learned later they were imported there for hunters, but they flourished so well, competed with the sheep so much, they were pinned up and domesticated. New Zealanders would just not tolerate competition for their sheep. Their opossum, which is different from ours, is a leaf eater. It was constantly vilified on large road signs, for “Eating up our forests!” Kill those suckers every chance you get!   Foxes in Australia were similarly vilified and poisoned, for being a sheep predator.  Sheep are king in that part of the world.

     We reached the mountains. While stopping at a roadside park, a very friendly, large green bird just walked up and stood on Barbara's foot. A nearby sign announced, “ This mountain is the only place in the world where the Kea Parrot is found.” Barbara went ballistic. “I've used that name on crossword puzzles for years. Now, here one is, standing on my foot!” Barbara is a crossword puzzle addict, and can often work our daily paper crossword in ten minutes. My conviction is, a person must be very smart in a warped sort of way to do that.

     We were into the extreme sports capital of the world. Queensland was filled with young thrill seekers from all over the world. Kinda made us feel old - - and young, too, in a way, just to be there. We passed roaring rivers, filled with young people, mostly, river surfing. They just ride a surf board over the rapids. We came to Bungee, NZ, home of the original bungee jump. Jumping from a very tall bridge into a roaring river. The elastic bungee cord snapped the divers out of the water after half the body (head first) had submerged. Barb assured me we could afford for me to dive, but I suddenly felt very conservative. We made our contribution to extreme sports by walking an open bottomed swinging bridge high over a roaring gorge.

     As we turned toward Milford Sound, the highway passed through a cave. Not a tunnel, as we know it, but  with natural walls and ceiling. Water dripped from the roof. It was very narrow and dark, and when we were about halfway through, a tour bus approached. It looked as if there was nothing to do except play chicken with a very big bus or back up fast. But, thank goodness, the bus driver turned into a bus turnoff as we approached.

      A totally new world awaited when we emerged. Extremely steep mountains soared into the clouds, many out of the sea. As there was still snow on top, many very high waterfalls fell from the clouds around us. Totally surreal. After touring around awhile, we wound up at the only lodging facility, a backpacker inn. Everyone prepared their own meals in the common kitchen. There was no electricity, and the sign announced that the generators, and the light and the heat, went off at nine o'clock. Beautiful waterfalls fell from the clouds on all four sides of  this building. As usual, we were the only ones over thirty.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: "The Snake was going for my Face!"

Forever A Hillbilly: "The Snake was going for my Face!": This is my last post before we leave - headed north. Our original purpose was to avoid the August heat til cool weather hit, but now it&#39...

"The Snake was going for my Face!"

This is my last post before we leave - headed north. Our original purpose was to avoid the August heat til cool weather hit, but now it's cool, so I'm not sure why - or where - just north. Be back in a couple of weeks. Or a month.

The Snake was going for my Face!

     We stopped at the Tasman Sea. They advertised the “Whitest sand in the world.” Well, it was white, all right. But I had my doubts about their claim. I bottled some up, brought it home, and compared it with the sand at Destin, Florida. Turned our to be a pretty close match. As we walked the trails of a beautiful Rain Forest, we realized we had only four more days. Our four weeks were almost gone, and it only seemed like a few days!
     As we traveled on up to Naroomba, we spotted black Swans and black cockatoos. We found a nice little motel. Barbara was tired, and went on to our room. The nice lady at the office started telling me how much she appreciated me calling her ma'am, then started telling me why. She once had an American cowboy boyfriend, and he called her ma'am all the time. He broke her heart. She said, “I will do anything you want, as long as you call me ma'am.” I fled to our room.
     Early the next day, we stopped at Birdland Animal Park. Hundreds upon hundreds of variously bright colored birds were feeding there, free to come and go. Baby wombats were a big attraction for us.

     A very large snake was on display. After letting it wrap around me, and getting my picture made, a family with two boys walked up. The dad was trying to convince the oldest boy to hold the snake for a photo. The boy had grave doubts, but after his younger brother piped up, “Dad, I will!” the older boy was shamed into it. As the snake wrapped around him, the boy panicked and threw it off, shouting, “He was going for my face!”.Well, the snake handler was not happy about that, and when the younger boy still wanted to do it, he had doubts. Finally, he allowed the younger boy to pick it up, wrap it around himself, and he pranced around and around his embarrassed older brother.

     We moved on to Pebbly Beach, down six miles of gravel road, but well worth it. Dozens of lazy kangaroos lounged by the surf. We ate lunch off the back of our still-pretty red car. Pie shops are big in Australia, and they are inexpensive. In Allalulla that night, we stopped for supper that night at a Pie Shop, and ate beef, cheese, and bacon pies, Then the owner gave us a free curry pie, just to keep us around longer. They loved to hear us talk!

      The next morning, we priced a whale watching cruise, but finally scaled it down to a dolphin cruise, to save money. We saw lots of dolphins, and got a free bonus – three humpback whales.

     Our last night in Australia was upon us. Barbara spent hours clearing our stuff out of the car and packing. Our bags were really bulging now! The next day, we drove into Sydney, somewhat straight to the airport. We checked in at the Ibis Motel. Barb had to dial 36 numbers to do it, but she managed to check us in at a motel in Auckland, New Zealand, for the next night. I could just never have figured that all out. But for her, I would probably still be stranded on some Sheep Station, marking lambs for a living. As I have said before, Barb will just not let any task she starts defeat her.

  The next morning, October 15, we took the shuttle to the airport. We were both determined to go through this airport thing without a panic attack. We're world travelers now, time to act like it. Always, it seems, some little thing happens to us, like losing a passport, or a ticket, and it just sets us off.

     In the air, we circled out around Sydney, both with tears in our eyes. What a beautiful, wonderful place Australia is! We could just live there. We had hoped to travel half of it in 4 weeks, but only saw a small fraction of that. Oh well, just a good reason to come back some day, if our bonus miles would just build up before our time, or my back gives out. And, there's still a lot of this world we have not seen yet. Neither of us have ever been able to figure out why so many rich people just sit at home so much. Lying around in the house all day, every day, is very similar to lying around in your casket all day, but with no TV.

   It took only two hours and forty minutes to fly to Auckland, New Zealand. When we arrived and picked up our baggage, we went to look about rental car possibilities. We were studying the board when we were approached by a well dressed, fast talking man. He explained that he owned rental cars; he had an excess on the other (south) island, and would give us a really good deal if we would fly to Christ Church, pick one up from his brother there, tour with it, and return it to Auckland. Even factoring in the domestic flight cost,  we would still have only one ferry crossing fee, and his price was impressive. His brother would pick us up at Christ Church, put us up in his motel, then send us on our way with a hire car. We agreed, and he quickly (too quickly, it turned out,) booked us a flight for Sunday morning, leaving us a day to see Auckland.

      Auckland was impressive. We toured by bus. The  Sky Tower was fun. As we worked our way up, Barb decided not to go to the top. She was not feeling real well, and standing on the glass floor, and looking down through it, hundreds of feet of empty air to the ground was not appealing to her.

     When I reached the top, a tourist, again a young Japanese, was being buckled into a harness, lifted up by a crane, swung out over the edge. He was then dropped, hundreds of feet, then finally slowed down as he reached street level. I passed on this, our budget did not allow it. Or my fear factor.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: The Two Headed Lizard

Forever A Hillbilly: The Two Headed Lizard:      We headed inland the next morning for the Outback. When we arrived in the edge of it, people were very excited. No, not to see us, but...

The Two Headed Lizard

     We headed inland the next morning for the Outback. When we arrived in the edge of it, people were very excited. No, not to see us, but because it rained the night before. Their first significant rain in three years.
     As we parked in a small village, we were amazed by the car next to us. It was a very long, very old station wagon. It had gas cans hanging all over it, filled with bedding and supplies, clotheslines stretching across it. The tag said, “Outback Australia.” We thought at first we were in a movie set. Anyway, we just had to wait until the owner got back, and get a look at him. When he arrived, he looked the part. Trips are just more interesting, with Barbara and her Dunnahoe nerve. We soon knew his life history. He was European, and he first came to the Outback years ago. He got on the dole, and lived on it, wandering about. He had come to this village, hoping to be able to get government money closer to civilization. He could not, so the last we saw of him, he had filled up his gas tank, all of his jugs, and was heading out toward Alice Springs, where there was almost no grass or trees, where the living was easy, on the dole. Australia has virtually no homeless. Anyone could get on the dole. And, we were told, if homeless people acted crazy, they were treated like they were, and put away.

     We headed on south, along the edge of the hard outback, to Charleyville. Along the way, we saw lots of Emus, goats, many birds and kangaroos, and bottle trees. Shaped like a bottle.
      The school district there, we found out, was the size of Texas. With thirty some-odd students. School was conducted by radio.
     We passed by a telephone booth, very rare in the outback. Then we went back and tried to call the kids. Luckily, Barbara caught both of them at the same place, and everyone was happy. My happiness faded as I felt a big something crawling on my face. It was a very big spider. I brushed it off. Now, I know our poisonous American spiders, but I don't know Australian spiders. I did know they had some that would kill you dead as a doornail. I noticed the phone booth we were in was full of spiderwebs. I told Barbara to hang up, we had to get out of there. Neither she nor the kids would hear of it, we had  never talked with both of our kids at the same time before. Finally I just dragged  her out. She was mad, but settled down when I told her about the spider.

     I counted 103 Kangaroo bodies in a ten kilometer stretch, lying along the road. As I said before, they just felt obligated to jump out in front of a car, and most people who lived there had bars on the front of their car to prevent damage. Also, Australia, where so many different animals live, had no buzzards or other carrion eaters. Plus, that part of Australia was extremely dry. The bodies just pile up and stay there forever, it seemed.

    We arrived at an Aboriginal Arts Center. We had never seen an Aboriginal before. An old, old man was working on his art piece, and Barb just naturally befriended him,  Talking his ear off. He was patient with us for awhile, a nice old man. Finally, though, he just got up and disappeared.

      Heading on south, we began to meet Road Trains. There were big trucks pulling 3, 4, or more big trailers, usually filled with cattle, some double-deckers. The farther they were into the Outback, the more trailers they were allowed to pull. The first time I met one on the road, weaving back and forth like a snake, I started looking for a good place to leave the road. There was none. In some places, we traveled 100 kilometers without meeting anyone.

     We passed a yard sale. Barbara just never can pass one up in another country, she just has to see what their old stuff looks like. When we walked around the corner of the house, a big animal made a run at Barbara. She bolted for the car. Finally, the lady convinced her it was a pet. It was an Alpaca, like a Llama. It just loved to lay its head on Barbara's shoulder, and make a contented, purring sound. Barbara bought a small, delicate teapot with roses on it, and actually made it back home with it. I bought a weird thing that, I found out later, is a Chinese Hindu Idol or God or something, I'm not sure what. Back home,  I pulled it out to show a friend who had just been a missionary in China, and she ran away screaming. I don't know what all the fuss is about, it has been a totally well behaved weird thing in my closet for years now. We went on, but stopped quickly when a large lizard with a head on each end crawled out into the road in front of us. Looking more closely, one head proved to be fake. I guess the fake head is used to convince predators it's boldly facing it while actually running away. Not a bad idea.

     We had trouble finding lodging that night. Seems it was Labor Day in Australia, and everything was packed up. We finally found a bar with a huge room filled with beds upstairs, so we had it to ourselves. They had beds in there for 20 or so. They advertised free “sizzlers” with a room or bed rental. Well, this was their “super bowl” night, and the fans in the bar were already drunk and rowdy. I didn't even want to go into the bar, I've never been much on Honky Tonks. But, Barbara was not about to miss out on our sizzler, (hot dog) so we went in. We sat in a back corner. I could see right off that the drunks were hanging on every play on the TV, and we would have to stand between them and the TV to get our sizzlers. I was ready to go hungry, and I was beginning to see that the “ Dunnahoe nerve” was beginning to turn on me. Barb just marched up there, blocked the drunks off, and demanded our sizzlers. I just hung back, and tried to look like I wasn't with her. Someday, that “Dunnahoe nerve” is going to be the death of me!

     The next day, as we moved on south, (I thought my life was about to go south on me last night.) and the country was beautiful. Green hills, full of sheep. Purple flowers covered many fields, as far as you could see. We drove past a gas station with lots of people standing around a huge ram. Barb jumped out to get a picture. The huge ram made a run at her. Once again, she bolted for the car. There's some things that “Dunnahoe nerve” just don't cover. Turned out, just another pet.

     We drove through the beautiful Blue Mountains, skirted the edge of Sydney, and headed on south. A  Sheep Station advertised home stays, so we went for it. Early the next morning, the sheep rancher said he was rounding up all the sheep to “mark the lambs.” Well, that involves cutting a piece of skin off just below the tail, so that its bodily functions would not mat up there, and attract flies that laid dangerous worms. His daughter, 12 or so, hated that day, but she had to help. They needed  the whole family. Barbara took her aside and gave her the old “I was a farm girl too, and sometimes, you just do what you gotta do” talk. Of course, marking lambs is different from chopping cotton. Those weeds didn't scream when you cut parts off.. But, it did help. I was put in the back of the pickup with the dogs, Barb in the cab with the humans. He just drove around the flock, giving a special whistle for each dog and each task assigned to him, and in short order the sheep were all penned. One of the dogs was very independent. He never acted on the first whistle, it took two to get him into action. But he was so good once he was in action, the sheep man tolerated him making his statement.
     The Station had a huge water tank on one corner of each building, and every drop of water they used was rainwater from those tanks. Well water was salty. It did not rain very often.

     Next we came to Canberra, the Capitol. Sydney and Melbourne both wished to be the Capitol City,  and Canberra was created as the Capitol, close to halfway in between, as a compromise. It was relatively new, and was perfectly laid out for its purpose.
     Next we climbed into the Snowy Mountains. The skiing season had just closed, and we pretty well had it to ourselves.  Moving on, we stopped at a Duckbill Platypus reserve, and although we hid in the bushes and watched the river a long time, we never saw one.

     Kangaroo were still plentiful, and we began to see roadsigns that said, “Danger – Wombat crossing.” What the heck is a wombat? Well, we finally found out. They are mammals, maybe the size of a small hog, but they were very dense and heavy. Built like a concrete block. Run over one, and you could tear up the bottom of your car.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: Saint Barbara and Old Men

Forever A Hillbilly: Saint Barbara and Old Men:     This series of posts feature our six week visit to Australia and new Zealand, in chronological order.                               ...

Saint Barbara and Old Men

    This series of posts feature our six week visit to Australia and new Zealand, in chronological order.

 Driving on up the coast the next day, we passed a fancy club with dozens of old men, dressed to the teeth with broad white hats on, rolling balls around on a lawn. Well, we had never seen anything like this. Barbara said, “Park, and I'll go see what's going on.” I stayed in the car, knowing full well what was about to happen. But, I'm an understanding husband. let Barbara have her fun. Well, she almost caused a riot! They all stopped what they were doing, and quickly gathered around her, all wanting to explain the game to her, many wanting to hold her hand to make sure she rolled the ball correctly. They apparently were not accustomed to having a bold foreign lady, and pretty too, interrupt their play. She quickly learned a lot about Lawn Bowling, and a few things about old men.

     We visited a Koala hospital - - Barbara has a thing about koalas, and could never pass one without stopping.
     We stopped at a rain forest, then ate at Hungry Jack's-- their version of Burger King.
     Going on up, we were attracted to the sight of dozens of hang glider's filling the coastal air. When we investigated, we found many were taking tourists up for a ride. They leaped off a cliff, with a tourist  hanging below in a bag, soared over the ocean for ten minutes or so, then they soared around and landed back exactly where they took off from. We noticed all the tourists going up were young Japanese, no one else. I asked about this. An Aussie told me, “Well, the Japanese traditionally let their young people go wild for a year after they complete their education. They try to pack a lifetime of adrenalin rushes into that year, then return home to work out their life in an 8x10 cubicle.” I don't know this to be factual, but I did notice, throughout the trip, that the bravest of the risk takers were always young Japanese.

     We moved on up to Brisbane, stopping at the Airport Motel outside of town. We had noticed that most all large airports had at least one reasonably priced motel near by. The next day, we parked the car on the outskirts of town, and took the Jet Cat in. I was not anxious to repeat my Sydney driving experience.
     I called Tim Hoyle, a former student of mine and a friend of our son Corey's, and arranged to meet him later that day. Many years ago, his family lived in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. They reduced everything they owned to a pickup full of bags, and moved to Australia. He had called us a number of times later, usually in the middle of the night. A girl answered at first, then quickly got another girl on too, and they just kept me talking as long as possible. I began to realize, they just loved to hear my  American/hillbilly accent, so I poured it on. I began to realize that my accent was a true chick magnet in Australia, but I already had a chick. But what's a little flirting, after her lawn bowling episode?. But then, Barb's not quite as understanding as I am - - - her patience with my fun phone call soon ran out.

     A major calamity struck us, especially Barbara, that day in mid-city. When she took her new, digital camera into a photo shop to get some pictures printed, the girl in charge forced the card back in, and bent something. It was dead, never to live again. We searched for a place to repair it, but to no avail. Barbara could not tell any of the camera repairmen our problem easily. “We are in the first week of our trip of a lifetime and-” the tears began to flow. We got loads of sympathy, but no help, so we finally bought a film camera. Our budget did not include another digital camera. They were still pricey in those days. Now days, we've stopped talking about "Trips of a lifetime." Just how many of those can two people logically have?

     After seeing Brisbane, and meeting Tim for a visit, we retraced our steps back to our still-pretty (but for how long?) car. We moved on up to the north side of Brisbane,  and called Father Anthony and Philomena. They soon came to guide us to their home.

     A great meal followed, and while Barbara and Father Anthony washed and dried the dishes, Philomena and I poured over her road maps. We then spent a fun evening talking. He was royally insulted when Barbara told him they sounded British, informing us that Brits sounded like they “had a plum in their mouth, and were far more pompous.” Barb and I both thought that was a really good description of how he sounded, but as his guests, we let it drop.  I, in turn, was offended when he indicated American football players were somewhat less that manly, having to wear head gear and padding, while Australian Footballers used none. He had to admit, however, that many of their young men got an awful lot of concussions. We didn’t mention that most of their footballers were Mauri, much stronger and bigger, while white kids played soccer. Never inflame the host, ya know.

     He showed us a photo of him carrying the Olympic torch, and showed us their Church. At that time, it was only a small building in their back yard. He said he was placing a photo of us over the alter, and they would pray for us daily.

     Their Church, he explained to us, was just like the Roman Catholic Church, except that the Priests were not celibate, an unnatural thing, and, since Jesus excluded no one, neither did they. Since that time, the Church has grown very rapidly, with branches in many countries, and became very attractive to lonely Priests. There is an orphanage named after him in Africa, and he is now the Presiding Bishop. He was 65 at that time, she 70, and they are still going strong. We still stay in touch regularly. It was nice to sleep in a real house that night, and we awoke to many strange and beautiful bird sounds.

     After breakfast, they drove us to the beach for a walk. They literally walked us both into the ground, several miles. They offered us the use of their beach house, half a day up the coast, but we had to decline, since we wanted to cover as much territory as possible during our stay. They led us out of town and got us started on the correct road, after giving us their official Catholic blessing.

     Since we have returned home, we have, as I said, stayed in regular contact with these friends. I told him once if they ever came to the US, we would come see them. Soon, he called, saying they were going to Hawaii for the official ceremony to make him a Bishop, wanted us to come. How does one explain to a Bishop that one can't keep his word? I had to start out by explaining how far Hawaii was from Arkansas.
     After he became Presiding Bishop, he once told Barbara that he was taking on the name of McCollip, in honor of a Saint. Then he said, “I personally believe, there are many living Saints  in the world, today, like yourself.” Well, that bothered me some. Even though it was an off-hand remark, it was, after all, said by the Presiding Bishop of the Independent Catholic Church of Austraila. Just how official IS that? How does one live with a Saint? Can I still kiss her on the mouth? No more French kissing? Can I sleep in the same bed? Must I always walk 5 steps behind? Just an awful lot I don't know about all that.
     He once wrote to tell us their small dog, whom we knew, had got into a fight with a Cain Toad and died. How could a toad kill a dog? I looked it up. A Cain toad has a poisonous skin. Bite it, and die. Australia is full of deadly creatures.

     We stopped for lunch at the Hippo Cafe. I left a tip on the table for the waitress. We were a block away when she chased me down. “Oh, sir! You left your money!” she said, waving it in the air. I explained to her it was a tip. “Oh, I could never accept that!” she said, returning it.Australian waitresses usually will not accept tips, but then, their friendliness and services seems to suffer. "Want more water? Sure. There's the pitcher. Right up there."

     We stopped at a nice little motel just across the road from a golf course. The country along the coast that the course occupied was every bit as scenic as Pebble Beach, but the course itself was not nearly as nice. We went by the club house, and they invited us to come to a big meal and party there that night. They actually had ice in their water, a rare thing. Mostly, they just loved to hear us talk. Barbara's “look good, stay clean” thing really worked for us that night.

     We moved on up to Bundaburg and found a nice little inexpensive motel. This was at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. We booked a snorkeling trip, but since the weekend was coming up, we had to wait there 3 days. We were determined to see this. We made the most of it, and took several shorter sightseeing trips. On one of these, we saw an animal in the distance that was as big as a cow, but was something else. When we finally found a way to drive up close to it, it was a giant red kangaroo. When it stood up and looked at us, it looked seven feet tall! I understand they can be deadly. Never take on a red kangaroo in a boxing match.

     When Monday finally rolled around, we drove to the town of Seventeen Seventy. It was named after the year Captain Cook explored that coast. We got in a very fast Jet Boat, and  we tourists sat down in the middle area, unable to see out. It was a very rough ride, and the people sitting on both sides of us, and in front and back, and many others, threw up. We did not. I guess you could say we were lucky, somewhat. We didn't produce any of it, but we caught plenty of our neighbor's produce. It saturated the air. We felt like Galley slaves of old.

      After two hours, we reached the Great Barrier  Reef. We stopped at the Lady Musgrave Island, several acres. There was absolutely no soil there. It was formed by a few trees growing up, with Nodding Terns visiting and nesting there. The trees, at times, secreted a sticky substance, trapping many birds. The Island had grown up from bird waste, rotting trees, and decaying bird bodies.
     We ran into a woman who was stranded there, and had been for days.  A boat had dropped her off, and just did not come back to pick her up. She begged for a ride. The last time I saw her, she was still begging the captain.

     We moved into the beautiful blue lagoon to snorkel. Barbara was a marginal swimmer, she was sucking in a lot of salt water, and I swam over to her and told her I was just barely holding my own, and not to count on me to be able to save her if she got into trouble. She finally went back to the boat and requested a life jacket. We had a fun day, and saw many kinds of colorful fish and coral.

     The ride back was long, but not quite as rough, and besides, we were all too tired to mess with throwing up by then.  On the way back to the motel, after dark, we learned that kangaroo, unlike our deer, just felt it was their obligation to jump out in front of us if we came anywhere close. We slowed down.
Continued when the readers slow slow down, usually 4-6 days. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: A Cultural Difference or Isolated incident?

Forever A Hillbilly: A Cultural Difference or Isolated incident?:     Our cook, the nice lady from Iraq, approached Barbara secretively. “You are a born-again Christian aren't you?&quot...

A Cultural Difference or Isolated Incident?

    Our cook, the nice lady from Iraq, approached Barbara secretively. “You are a born-again Christian aren't you?"
   “Yes, I am.” She then smiled.
   “And I, as well,” she whispered. Barbara hugged her.
    “We are leaving here tomorrow, but I will see you again in Heaven.”
     Her face lit up with great joy. “Yes, you will!”

     Our last dinner that night had ten nations represented at our table. As always, we were the lone Americans. We got great, but troubling, insight into how the rest of the world feels about  America. They loved American clothes, music, cars, etc., they liked us as individuals, but strongly expressed their dislike for America. One young British couple, traveling the world with two kids, had bought an old station wagon when they got to Australia. He said, “We have traveled most of the world, but we would never go to America.”.
     I asked why. He declared, “In some of the places we have been, maybe Africa, people will beat you up and take what you have. But only in America will they shoot you in the head and take your stuff.”
      I tried to explain.”That's overplayed in the press, and TV. Our families, and even our extended families, have never been the victim of a violent crime.”
      He looked at me a long time, and stated, “You're lucky.” Everyone else nodded in agreement.              “Well,” I said, “I know there are bad places. One just does not go to those places.”
      "We don't know where those places are."      
      We were at a loss to persuade them, sitting in a country with almost no violent deaths the year before.
     An Australian man, who had earlier lived in America a short while, was later referred to by Barbara as a semi-American. He got very red, very angry, as the table roared, “Wooooooo!” I'm Australian!” he asserted loudly.
     Another man later told me, “A woman like Barbara always travels with the big guy!”
     We really did not have a good answer to the assertion, “America hog's the world's resources”, as we dined there with no paper napkins, or any other throw-away items.

      Father John ran a tight ship, and he was definitely the captain. He went out every morning in his van, and always came back with a load of vegetables, fruit, dessert items, etc. We suspected he salvaged what was left over from restaurants, etc. Once, a load of fruit was being carried in. The big “semi-American” started to swipe a fruit off the top. Father John roared, “Get out of that!” and the man jumped back about 3 steps.  Even though his customers were full-grown adults, he tolerated no improper behavior. The building our room was in had two tenants, us and a single woman. Late one night, as we came in, we had forgotten our building key. We knocked on the outside door. The woman came to the door, and whispered, “Fred, is that you?” Well, we didn't see a “Fred” around, so we said nothing. Finally, after this was repeated a few times, and no Fred stepped forth, she unlocked the door and quickly fled back to her room.

      I studied a road map that night. It just did not make good sense to me at that time. I asked Aussie friends about driving  across Sydney, but I did not understand their speech at that point enough to benefit from it. We were on our own.
     We left at daylight, before the traffic picked up. The guest house was on a hill, and we could barely see the Sydney Bridge in the distance, across the very large city. The moon was still up, right above the bridge, so I set out to navigate toward the moon.
     The roundabouts and their rules of behavior were new to me, and some of them had four lanes. The other drivers gave me lots of help in learning the ropes in the form of hand signals, some indigenous to America, some totally new. Finally, we saw the bridge approach-road, just after passing it. After a turnaround or two, we got it, and were on our way up the coast.

     We stopped at a small park to eat breakfast, consisting of our old stand by, Peanut butter and honey on bread. An Aussie, as was customary, sat down and shared our table, so Barbara fixed him a sandwich. We told him of our situation, and our drive across Sydney. He said, “Gutsy maove' matey!”

     The beaches up the coast were breathtaking, and even here, in the most populated part of Australia, they were nearly empty. One Aussie told me, “We get offended if other people come within sight on our beach!”

     Driving on up the coast, my most dangerous driving weakness soon showed up. The right hand turn. Not being used to checking oncoming traffic with a right turn, and being very cautious to turn into the left lane, I forgot to check the oncoming traffic. Driving became a partnership thing. I needed Barbara's eyes, ears, and brain to supplement mine, watching my back. And, my front.
 I didn't get offended at all by her driving help, like I always do at home.
     Pulling off the road to see a lake, we noticed what we assumed was a cultural difference. A man was standing beside a parked car, talking to a smiling woman inside, and he was totally naked! She was calm, so we knew she wasn't in danger, but he was obviously very excited. Since we never saw this repeated again, I guess it was just an isolated incident. The fact that they now had an audience bothered them not at all.

     We stopped to walk out to a pretty little Cathedral. As we walked, a very huge, very black lizard crossed our path. Not being quick enough to get a good picture, we figured well, thats OK, we will see lots more of them. We never saw another.

     We stopped for the night at Port McQuarie. Telling a lady we had not seen a kangaroo yet, she sent us to a golf course. At least 75  were hopping about and grazing!  Continued in 5-6 days.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: Australia on a Shoestring

Forever A Hillbilly: Australia on a Shoestring:      The big day was upon us! We were leaving for Australia today, flying out on tickets costing us $75 each for the trip. We had been savi...

Australia on a Shoestring

     The big day was upon us! We were leaving for Australia today, flying out on tickets costing us $75 each for the trip. We had been saving bonus miles on our credit card for a long time, so the out-of-pocket expenses were the taxes

     Being of modest means, we planned very creatively. Spend no more for food that we spend at home. Every country has to have inexpensive eating places, since poor people are found everywhere. Just find those places, and eat out of grocery stores until we do. Peanut butter sandwiches  are a good, nourishing standby. We planned to do a lot more looking than spending. A costly side trip had to be very special, and chosen carefully. We made no reservations, knowing less expensive stays were not available for booking in other countries. Also, we wished to not be tied to a schedule, just go where the notion strikes us. We knew we might possibly wind up in our car overnight, as a last resort, but in all our travels, that has never happened. Yet. We felt we could stay six weeks, on our own, for what we would have to spend on a private, guided tour of ten days or so, and we wished to deal with the locals, not tour guides. That has proven to be true. Barbara, with her Dunnahoe nerve and her ability to make new friends instantly, always finds us an excess of local "tour guides." That could be dangerous, you say? Yes, it could. But it has not. Yet. Our main "extra" expense will be the car, and lodging. 

     We flew out of Little Rock early on September 15. We had a long layover in Los Angeles. Fortunately, our friends Dwight and Patty picked us up at the airport for a fun day. We started the 15 hour flight just after midnight, and were lucky enough to get the second flight out to Sydney that day, and it was not crowded. As we slept during that very long night, September 17 just melted away and disappeared into the sea. We arrived in Sydney early on the 18th,  Barbara's birthday, fortunate not to lose her birthday on the long flight. Years before, she had lost a good part of one birthday. She was on a ship anchored off Fanning Island. When the 18th showed up, she crossed the International Dateline on the launch to the island into September 19th, then came back into her birthday that night. If she had lost another birthday, how would she ever keep up with her true age? Then again, maybe that's a good thing.

     We picked up our luggage at the airport, almost breaking a luggage cart down. Barbara had long held the conviction that you dressed well, stayed neat and clean while traveling, and people treated you better and were more helpful. And, I have to admit, the Lord knows, we did need help.
My conviction was, you just carried along a few clothes, folded up your dirty clothes when you took them off, placed them in the bottom of your bag. When they recycled back to the top of the bag, they were clean again. However, as she did the packing, she won out.

     At the car rental booth, I quickly noticed, to my horror, that all the cars had the steering wheel on the right (wrong) side. When I asked the seemingly sensible question, “Are you sure you don't have at least one car around with the correct placement of the steering wheel?” I began to draw a crowd. Agents from surrounding booths gathered round, and laughed “with” me about this and my Arkansas hillbilly talk in general. We finally settled for a flawed car, and continued wandering the airport, trying to pull our new lives together. Barb came up with a great phone card, which, if you didn't mind dialing 25-30 numbers,  one could call home cheaper that in-country! As we started wheeling our mountain of bags down the airport hallway yet once again, we heard one lady comment, “Those poor people! They've been wandering around the airport all morning!”
     As we had no reservations, since we did not want to be tied to a rigid schedule, we searched for lodging. We finally made arrangements to stay at the Kriskringle Guest House. Someone in Arkadelphia had mention staying there, and recommended it. Father John, a married ex-priest, the director, picked us up. On the way, he asked if we were Christians. Informed we were non-denominational Christians, he smiled. “Thats good. That's what Jesus was!”

     Upon our arrival, Father John gave us each a coffee cup. “This is your cup for your stay here. If you lose it, that's tough.” He did relent, though, when I promptly lost mine. We were to eat our meals there, together with the others from all over the world, and they were mostly covered by the daily charge. We were to wash our own dishes and put them away. The rooms were simple, but functional and clean.

     We found our way to the subway, then the ferry, and thus began our 5 days of exploring Sydney. We probably would not have stayed quite that long, but I was fighting back a panic attack about driving a car with the steering wheel on the wrong side, on the wrong side of the road. Our plans for leaving Sydney involved going north, up the coast, and driving completely across the city was necessary. I figured I would settle down about that, with time. But alas, it just got worse! 

     Shopping that first day, Barbara realized to our horror that her purse was missing! All of our important paperwork, at that point, was in it! I sprinted back to a park bench we had sat on, three stores back, and there it was. Safe and intact. Does it not say somewhere, “God will protect those unable to protect themselves?” (Barbara gave me THE LOOK over that line, but I stressed it applied to both of us, not just her.) All of our important papers and most of our money and cards quickly wound up in my little hidden pouch around my neck and in my hidden belt compartment. I left only a token amount in my wallet, so that a successful pickpocket would assume we were really poor, and leave us alone. That has never happened, either.

     Dinner that night was at a table with eight others, representing five countries. Of interest to us was was a high priest from Fiji, in full native dress. A nice lady from Iraq did all the cooking.
     The next day we went to Darling Harbor, ate at the G'day Cafe, (good but a bit pricey.) We discovered early on, once we started eating on our own, that regular, touristy restaurants charged 2-3 times what we were used to, and the plane didn't fly out for 6 weeks.
     At dinner that night, we met a new couple, some of Father John's friends, who were there for the night. Father Anthony and his wife, Philomena. He was a current priest, and I didn't then understand about the wife. We later learned they were just starting a new branch of the Catholic Church, which became the Independent  Catholic Church of Australia. Marriage was a part of the package for them. After a short visit with them, he asked us to call them when we got to Brisbane, and they would come get us and lead us to their house.

     After another day or two of criss-crossing Sydney on the public transportation, during which we went to the Opera House, saw the Olympic Village, and watched the daring hikers walk across the top of the Sydney bridge, the time to pick up our hire car had arrived. The moment of truth. Put up or shut up. My worst moment in all our travels.

     We went to the airport, secured a bright, new, red Falcon. I wondered if it would still be pretty after I drove it 4 weeks. I practiced driving it up and down in the airport, but finally, I had to jump off into the rush-hour traffic.

     Our six weeks in Australia and two weeks in New Zealand will take up the next 5 or 6 posts. They will be posted 5-6 days apart. Thanks for your time, and your attention, a very valuable commodity for one such as I who writes for the love of writing. Pat Gillum

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: The Turn Toward Home

Forever A Hillbilly: The Turn Toward Home:      We drove south across Minnesota to Lake Superior. After traveling along the lake a while, we discovered an area where many rock houn...

The Turn Toward Home

     We drove south across Minnesota to Lake Superior. After traveling along the lake a while, we discovered an area where many rock hounds came each year to hunt agates on the beach, so we found a park near by and I spent the better part of two days looking for agates. Those I found, along Lake Superior, did not look superior, but I'm sure, cut and polished, they would look much better. I could still do that, I have them in my garage. If I just had the foggiest idea where.

     We went to the Mall of America. It was now Barbara's turn to be excited. We spent the bulk of two days, trying to see it all, and it only takes me one minute to see most stores. But we still failed. In Minneapolis, we went to see the Minnesota State Capital building, or so we thought, but the actual capital building was across the way. That also fooled the movie makers. We saw a movie that night, about the then governor Jesse Ventura, the colorful governor/wrestler of that time period. A scene in that movie supposedly showed him walking into the capitol. But, it was the wrong building, the one we first picked. Made us feel a little better about our little mistake.
     In La Crosse, Wisconsin, we camped along the mighty Mississippi, running bank full, only a foot or so out of our RV. Actually, that spot, still far north, was part of the southern half of that river. The river curves and twists so much near it's source, as we discovered tracing it, more than half the total length is in Minnesota.

     In Iowa, we went to the Field of Dreams and played baseball, as best we could, with no ball. Or bat.
     We moved to Iowa City and set out to find, and photograph, every one of the “Bridges of Madison County.” We succeeded, and I even took my shirt off and washed up at the same water pump Clint Eastwood used to tease Meryl Streep, and Barbara got in the same bathtub Meryl seduced Clint in. It was a little too public now for Barbara to actually seduce me there, But I have to say. I pretty well stay in a state of seduction around Barbara.

     We went to Winterset, and saw the birthplace of John Wayne. It seems the city council once met on a cold day to decide the name of that town. Summerset was suggested, then someone noted, “Feels more like Winterset today!” It stuck.
     Iowa wins the prize for the most deer, and the most corn.

     Our next stop was again in the driveway of our Hannibal friends, Cheryl and Wes. And the price of that park was holding firm. They were both teachers. Wes keeps a loaded gun, in a locked gun safe, in every room of his house. But I have never known him to hurt a fly. And, he is all about mountain man stuff. But it almost made him sick to his stomach when I described trapping and skinning animals in my youth. Mountain man or no, he's a great guy. He once belonged to a motorcycle club, the “Buffet Brothers.” They traveled from one buffet to another, he says.

     We had now completed a full circle. A really big circle. Branson, Missouri beckoned, and we took in a show or two. We found another dirt cheap campground, in Barbara's sister Patsy's driveway. Traveling there from Missouri brought about the only other occasion, after San Diego, where our old RV overheated. We were pulling up the long grade from the Buffalo River to the summit of the mountain. Pretty good, for an old relic from the 80's. But, old RV‘s tend to have few miles on them, for their age. They are bought with big plans that seldom pan out. Our camper, at the beginning of the 18,000 miles we drove it, only had 29,907 miles on it. We put around 20,000 miles on the car. Our final leg brought us back to the Arkadelphia KOA again, where we waited three days for our house to empty up.

     I wish I could tell you about all the really neat things we saw, did, and learned that year, but if I tried to do that, it would fill this book, and grow it into the size of an encyclopedia. Oh, sorry. I forgot. An encyclopedia is an old person thing. I started making a wild animal list, but finally gave it up. It was the most fun, footloose, carefree year of our lives, even considering the mechanical problems. I seldom got the RV hooked up in camp before Barbara had the car off the dolly, saying, “If I'm going to be away from my family, I'm going to be seeing new things, not sitting here in this park.” We loved the old RV, but at 6 MPG, we soon parted with it. We missed home and family. I even missed working in my yard, if you can believe that. I immediately began making our back yard into a showplace, vowing to my family that soon, people from miles around would soon be streaming in to view it. Barbara vowed to be the weed puller. I even put in a sprinkler system. The fervor has waned, though, and now it is but a relic of it's once imagined self. The stream of visitors just never got started.
     To this day, Barbara sometimes rags me some about my long lost dream of a backyard showplace. But when she does, I have only to tell her, “Yeah, that gardener just ran off with the weed puller.” And, they have never returned. I hope they are having a good life, in some real showplace somewhere. They deserve each other. As for Barbara and I, we are back to being our old selves. One never touches a weed, the other hates the sight of a lawnmower.

     We fully intended to become productive citizens again after this trip, but somehow, it just never happened. There's just too much world left to see, still too much excitement to experience, and fun yet to be had. We had seen much of America. At that point, we had saved up enough bonus flyer miles on our credit card to see much of the rest of the world. We couldn’t wait to get started. Australia, here we come!