Australia journal - June 1999

The long trip home, part 1

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After getting dressed and returning our gear to the dive shop, we went into the dining room to have lunch and begin the surprisingly emotional process of saying farewell.  Genevieve, who had been our waitress most of the time, had been very pleasant and fun to schmooze with.  The family of four from Wisconsin via New Zealand were on the island for a few more days, their adventure having started several days after ours.  The two middle-aged Australian women who looked like Americans and had arrived on the same boat we did were also leaving on our boat.  Ruth, our diving companion, was leaving by helicopter later.

And there was Matt, making friends with everyone as per usual - entertaining a kid here and chatting up a single guest at his own table (I think they assigned single guests to a table together, and Matt is one of those).  He joined us for lunch.

As we stood on the jetty saying goodbye to Matt Zarb and the other new friends we'd made among the Heron Island crew, we could see (for the first time) a couple of peaks on the mainland.  It had been easy to forget that we were only a few kilometers off shore; the passage over had been intense and the weather so claustrophobic at first, and then we were immersed in this exotic isolation with its ad-hoc village of transient, temporary, and (a few) permanent residents.   The total absence of roads and automobiles and the distractions of home contributed greatly to the success of the vacation, even when we weren't able to do the outdoor things we were there to do.

There were telephones, obviously for emergencies or whatever.  Rita called her dad a couple of times, and I called Robbie Osman to check in on the KPFA situation, since there was so much going on during the time I was unable to stay in touch via the internet.  And there was even a television set in the departure lounge; a mother and daughter who were often seen on the Heron Island tennis court were in there late one night watching Wimbledon.  But for practical purposes, this was an off-the-grid experience.

I stood on the poop deck of the catamaran and watched Heron Island recede.  I took a last look at the island, and the magical reef that surrounds it, and the rich blue water all around.  On the horizon, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, were breaking waves: the Wistari Reef. It was a marvelous, mirage-like sight.

When we got into our bed on the 25th floor of the Marriott Hotel in Brisbane, my body still remembered the gentle rocking of the ocean.

Our flight into Sydney was uneventful.  We were happy to see the majestic Sydney Harbor again, especially now that we were familiar with some of the landmarks.  There were some heavy clouds covering some of the sky, and we could see rain falling in some areas as we came in for a landing.

That rain paid a handsome dividend for us as we walked through the concourse on our way to the baggage claim: through a large window we could see the entirety of a big fat rainbow out beyond the runway, with a partial rainbow above it where the clouds were thickest.  Even though we were in a big hurry to get our bags and schlep over to the international terminal, we had to stop and marvel at this sight.  It reminded me of the triple rainbow we saw over Kapoho on our way home from Hawaii the last time.

We ran into Ruth, who went out to dive on the same boat we went snorkeling on,  in the United line at the Sydney airport.  She was on the flight we were hoping to get on, which went on to JFK from SFO.

We didn't get on the San Francisco plane.  United told Rita the Sunday flight was not looking good but Monday was pretty open, so we decided to take two more days in Sydney and fly home Monday.

Dave and Lynn from Binna Burra

We made a lot of happy noises about being given two more days in Australia, but by mid-afternoon it felt like the air had been let out of our vacation.

Our room at the Harbour Rocks inn was noisy, with a window that wouldn't close, on a block that was ground zero of a two-day street fair.  It cost us a fair bit more than the Cambridge Park Inn and had a phone that refused to connect to Earthlink for some reason.

We were cranky and exhausted as we carefully hung up our fancy travelin' clothes and unpacked the things we'd need for the next 24 hours.  We threw a load of laundry in the machine right outside our room, and I got my computer out; I had an idea for a story and I was itching to start writing.  But Rita was really unhappy about the air-conditioning system roaring outside our window, and so she went to the front desk to demand that we be assigned to a different room.  And when we got settled in this quieter room, we called the Cambridge Park Inn and booked ourselves in there for Sunday.

We walked around the Rocks district, checking out the Aroma Festival - a world coffee expo, with food booths and some craft vendors filling several blocked-off streets.  This was in addition to the regular Fisherman's Wharf-style open-air tourist-trap market scene.  There were guys in green jump suits with tanks of Harris coffee on their backs, dispensing free samples into paper cups.

We got a real kick out of a street theater act, four guys in matching dark gray suits and lime-green ties with tiny polka dots, each carrying a take-away cappuccino cup in one hand and talking on a fake cel phone.  They stood together, each carrying on a fake business conversation, signaling one another from time to time, moving off more or less in line every now and then.  They weren't collecting money as far as I could tell - just making fun of the plethora of real cel-phone jabberers we see all over the place.

After dinner at the Rocks Cafe, walking back to the hotel we passed an old guy sitting in a doorway.  "Hey!" he called to me.  "Why don't you put your arm around that beautiful woman?  Walking around with your hands in your pockets like that, someone is going to think you're playing with yourself!"  Well, that put a smile on our faces, and of course I complied.  "Pigpen lives," I said to Rita as we turned the corner.

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