Australia definitely didn't disappoint me when it comes to the paranormal. Although I didn't set out to make my trip all about dead people, I did find a little time to seek out the bizarre, the otherworldly, and the creepy in the land far away. But first, a word on jet lag. I haven't traveled across this many time zones in a decade, and even then it was only a five-hour difference. This time, it was 14 hours. After a whole five days back in the states I still can't get myself sleeping normally again. My mind is awash with thoughts, memories, and reflections on the two weeks on the other side of the world. And no amount of caffeine can get me feeling human (and alive) quite yet.
Still, I plod on. And there are so many wondrous things to tell about Australia. For those of you who wonder, no I didn't meet Oprah nor did I even cross paths with her entourage. Thankfully. That's no disrespect for her or her audience. But the experiences I had were vastly different from the McCafe-drinking, Outback-hiking, "G'day mate" schlock tossed around in a tourist-driven tour. This was the "choose your own adventure and get lost several times in the process" type of travel that I've grown to love. It's being out of your element and often a bit fearful of what could happen. Stepping out of your comfort zone and into the reality of a city, far from the tourist maps and beaten path, can be the best way to see a place for the first time. There's not much room for illusions and false pretenses. It's not wandering around the rim of the volcano, it's diving in head first and hoping you aren't burnt to a crisp.
Sydney was my first stop and where I wearily landed on the first day of December. It is the wettest December in 20 years. Seeing my friend Joel waiting at the airport did improve my mood but there wasn't much time to waste. The journey was on after a long bus ride to the hostel. Rain or shine, when you only have a few days in a city you have to make the best of it. We did quickly realize that there wasn't any feasible way to see everything on my list in three days, but I did get a good taste of the city. And I can mark another item off my Bucket List: walking across Sydney Harbour Bridge. And it turned out to be a beautiful day for it too! Still, Sydney did leave a mark on me. The sun is a lot stronger there than I'm used to so on the ferry to Manly I developed a rather nasty sunburn that peeled off during the remainder of my stay. Somewhere in Sydney, there's still part of me floating around undoubtedly.
Another day went by picking up Joel's car, stopping by a few out-of-the-way spots including Campbelltown (home of the Fisher's Ghost Festival), visiting the lovely Sam and Deb for lunch in Wollongong, and a treacherous foggy drive to the capital Canberra. Another three days went by quickly visiting the sights and museums and staying with Joel and his boyfriend Brett. I want to thank both of them for their gracious hospitality and good company. I'm forever in their debt for everything. I met even more fascinating people during those days and learned about a few tragedies from the past. A very helpful staff member at a museum even took the time to give me a detailed account of all the ghosts and paranormal happenings in and around the building! I'm not even sure if it's mentioned on any ghost tours so I felt quite honored to get a taste of haunted Canberra.
Following that leg of the journey, there was a while day of travel in store. Unfortunately, navigation doesn't always go according to plan. Somehow on our attempt to take the scenic route along the ocean via the Princes Highway, we found ourselves lost in the Snowy Mountains. We passed through part of Kosciuszko National Park (home to the tallest mountain in Australia of the same name) and caught several glimpses of mountain snow still clinging to the highest points of land before getting directions and taking the shortcut toward our destination. This meant taking a terrifying drive on a stone-and-dirt mountain road through the Snowy Mountains for a few hours before returning to civilization. We reached Inverloch at nightfall where we stayed the night before heading to suburban Melbourne the next day. In light of our adventure I felt a day of shopping would be better than more long drives and sightseeing.
Melbourne went by the fastest. I'm not sure if it was the overexposure to ideas, restaurants, places, and people flooding me at the speed of light or the fact that the trip was nearing its end. I met up with the curator of Melbourne Museum (and we exchanged signed books), stopped at the Haunted Bookshop, and saw some remarkable old buildings. Given the tight budget I was on the final leg had its moments. And tensions did run high at times. For anyone who has ever spent two solid weeks with a friend, traveling or not, you know that nothing is ever all sunshine and lollies. Perhaps it was just my own perspective but I felt that toward the end, Joel needed a break from me. I know I needed some solitary time myself and my emotions went rampant a few times along the way from the lack of quiet alone time. But I like to think that there wasn't any permanent damage done to the friendship. Even if things had gone smoothly the entire time, I'd worry. It's just my nature.
I took a bus back to Sydney to give Joel a break from the insane amount of driving he did during the trip. Then it was a matter of catching my three flights back to Cleveland and arriving six hours after leaving Sydney. Hence the jet lag. When you travel for 24 hours and only six hours actually pass, it's natural for your internal clock to pop a few springs. I landed wearily at Hopkins International with a head full of experiences and thoughts as well as luggage filled with souvenirs, pamphlets, and mementos. And a new hat. And a zillion ideas on reviving a novel I started years ago only this time set in Australia. And don't forget the bit of uneasiness about possibly leaving with unresolved emotions between myself and my dearest friend. Not in that way; I mean emotional casualties of too much time in close quarters combined with a frantic, fast-paced sojourn.
Overall, it was an incredible experience. Seeing so much of Australia in two weeks was amazing. Having that time together with Joel did more for me than I ever thought too. And it wasn't exactly how I had imagined it all going. For one, there were fewer iffy moments than I anticipated. And secondly I actually enjoyed meeting his boyfriend! Perhaps that's all I really needed. Seeing Joel in person for a change, having some good and not-so-good moments together, and watching them both interact together to see that yes they both were happy together and life was good. though all that realization did make me feel awkwardly in the way on my final day in Canberra before going to Sydney for my departure. I wanted them to have some time together and felt a bit guilty about Brett's non-involvement in the whole experience. Yes this was to be my first true vacation in as long as I can remember, but the last thing I ever want to do is be "in the way."
I know this all seems like an abridges version of the trip, and it is. But I wanted to give a short version of events and not go in-depth on every day, every moment. It would simply take too much time... not to mention become too dangerously close to being a diary instead of the blog I intended to have. I did see plenty of haunted places but during daytime hours. This was intentional, though. Ghost tours weren't in the budget (not would there have been much time for them) and I wanted to photograph several places in good light. I will be sharing a lot more about the hauntings in the future, though. Australia is still my favorite place in the world. And on March 1, 2011 I'll be giving a presentation at Cuyahoga Falls Library at 7:00 PM regarding many haunted places, famous and obscure, in the land down under. I'll also toss in a few moments from my trip, share a few souvenirs with the audience, and fix some of the misconceptions and stereotypes about Australia. But for now, let's just try to survive the holidays...