Sunday, December 27, 2009

Stolen Car, what a bummer

Well, we woke up this morning and our frickin car was stolen! Can you believe it? Right out from under the carport underneath Ian and Mae’s apartment. We filed a police report and are hoping that it will show up. It’s really frustrating cause we don’t really have much and we can’t do anything but wait and hope. Fortunately we pulled a few things out of the car for the evening like Mal’s computer and camera, our toiletries, journals, her purse, my wallet. The real bummer was losing all the cool things Mal has picked up throughout the course of her trip, Christmas presents given to us by family, those really cool mugs Robert gave us, my favourite set of bowls I brought over, things like that with a lot of personal value. Everything else can be replaced, although we were going to sell the car for a good portion of our travel money. But that’s alright, we’ll manage.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas from the Olmsteads!

Merry Christmas from everyone at the Olmsteads! I’ve had a really great time getting to know this side of Mallory’s family. Our Christmas stay included all kinds of fun things like playing horse shoes, watching cricket, playing cranium, opening presents, walking around the lake, playing Frisbee and eating entirely too much food. They all made me feel very welcome. When I offered to help out in the kitchen, Dennis replied with a hearty laugh “don’t worry about any of that, just relax. Tonight you’re a guest, but tomorrow you’re family and we’ll put you to work.” The Christmas lunch and dinner were great. Everyone pitched in and made some great food. I helped Mallory make a frozen peanut butter pie with an Oreo crust and a key lime pie with a crust made of the Australian version of Teddy Grahams. You would have a hard time finding either one of those here. Not too many people seem to like peanut butter all that much here, but I think they enjoyed the pie. Tomorrow we’ll head back to Melbourne for a day or two before picking our next adventure.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Josh's Birthday

This has been about the best birthday I could ask for down here, thanks to being around awesome people. After our trip to Wilson’s Prom, we got in touch with Robert Barron, a well know potter who lives the small town of Korumburra in the Gipsland area, halfway between Wilson’s Prom and Melbourne. He is a friend of Judy Duff’s back in North Carolina and agreed to let Mal and I stop by for a couple days to check out his pottery and help him out some in exchange. When I called him he said he wasn’t at the pottery but we could come crash at his beach house in Inverloch, half an hour’s drive from Gooseneck Pottery. He is a really cool dude and I could tell right away that we were going to get a long pretty well. We cooked a really good dinner on the bar-b-que, walked around on the beach before hitting the sack. The next day, the 22nd, we drove up to the pottery where Mal and I helped Robert clean out a section of his incredible kiln that had suffered an unfortunate shelf collapse during the last firing. It’s a mess in a wood-fired kiln when something like that happens because everything is covered in a viscous molten glass that fuses anything together that touches with pretty impressive strength.

Robert seemed to enjoy teaching Mal and I about the process he uses to make pots. We both learned a lot from him. His kiln is based on ancient Korean models that he studied in his younger years from potters in Korea. It was really cool seeing how his kiln compares to the few wood-fired kilns I’ve seen in North Carolina that are based more on ancient Japanese and European styles. His kiln has four chambers and a firebox. Each chamber is plenty big enough for a large person to walk around in comfortably. The fourth chamber he introduces salt to the atmosphere, which reacts with the flux element in the clay to create beautiful alkaline glazes. It’s really inspiring to see potters who do lots of amazing work and do so without the aid of electric kilns. It made me really excited to get back and make some pots.

We stayed in the loft space of his studio that night. His studio is really simple, and he makes some very large sculptural forms with simple means, which is pretty cool. The next day we did a bit of yard work around his guest cottage near at the pottery that he rents out for days or weeks or months at a time. He has a really cool set up there, with lots of fruit trees and herbs growing around the house. Then we went back to his beach house to celebrate my birthday. Robert took us out surfing until the sun went down. That was awesome. I’d never thought of playing around in the ocean much on my birthday because it’s usually cold. Robert is a great surfer and teacher. He let Mal get out on a board and taught her some of the basics. She did really well Mallory and Robert refused to let me help out with dinner and desert and cooked up a really good meal with a caramel covered banana bread for desert.

When we left, Robert let us pick out some mugs to take with us. That was really exciting, there were so many great things to choose from. We ended up picking out a really beautiful pair of mugs that were fired in the salt chamber of his kiln. They are a really nice dark and navy blue on the outside speckled with white in a way that just looks salty and a really sombre, translucent green glaze on the inside that he used on a lot of his pots. We had a great stay with him and I told him I would come back sometime to help out with a firing

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Josh's Arrival

At this point I’ve been in Australia a few days and loving every minute of it. It seems as though Mallory has seen a lot more harsh and dry climates than I have seen so far. I was surprised to find that the southeast corner is a very mild, green climate. The first day I arrived it was pretty hot, around 40 degrees Celsius, which translates to somewhere close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. But by the next day it had dropped down to around 20 degrees Celsius, a record-breaking temperature drop for Melbourne. The last few days it has been pretty cool. We have both had some really good time to catch up since I’ve been here. It’s been great. We spent some time walking around St. Kilda, ate at a nice Italian Pizza place and had a couple beers back at her cousin’s, Ian and Mae’s apartment. I was surprised I didn’t seem to be slowed down too much by jet lag; I guess I was just too excited to get here.

We are exploring one of the more remote areas of Wilson’s Promontory, in the very southeast tip of continental Australia in Victoria. This National Park offers (or at least what Victorians will tell you) the best beach walks in the world. We would both agree that they are pretty spectacular. We ended up in this part of the park by chance rather than going to more popular areas like the lighthouse and squeaky beach. In the process of trying to figure out how to use the GPS in the car for the first time, I put my finger on a random point in the Park and got directions to there from Melbourne. It ended up directing us to the trailhead for the Five Mile Beach walk, which ended up being a really cool hike.

It is an 18 km walk from the parking lot to the beach, during which time we ran into only one other couple hiking the other way. They gave us some useful information on the area and informed us that there was no one else out there. We walked across some beautiful rolling hills, part of which boasted some a really incredible granite boulder field. I discovered the non-biting “hitch hiker” flies common to this area that hung around us by the hundreds on the hike, but apparently wanted nothing more to do with us than catch a ride on our packs. Although they were a bit annoying and would occasionally make it towards your eye sockets, obscuring your vision, Mallory helped me get used to them by explaining that, by comparison to the blood-sucking mosquitoes, or “mozzies” as they are known here, the hitch hikers are certainly friendly.

Our stay at the beach was great. The weather ended up being a bit cool for Mallory’s taste since she’s gotten used to the oppressively blazing hot sun that dominates the barren landscape of central Australia, but it was a welcome transition for me, coming from the beginning of winter back home. Five Mile Beach was exactly what you’d imagine it, five miles of uninterrupted white sand beach bordered on either side by rough, rocky coastline where the mountains run right down into the ocean, as if to isolate and protect this little paradise from the rest of the world.. It was a beautiful spot and in the 3 days we were there we only ran into two other people who camped for a night on the beach and left the next morning. There is a loop that some people hike that visits several nice beaches similar to this one, but we decided to make base camp at this beach and explore the surrounding area for a couple days instead.

There was a really cool stream on the north end of the beach that feeds a really dark brown water, filled with tannic acid leached out from the swamps it was filtered through on the way out, into the bright, blue-green ocean water. The surf there was one of my favourite places to sit and watch the surf. You could watch a wave come in that would on one end crash into the rocky shore where seals liked to hang out. The rest of the wave would end in a beautiful shore break that had a distinct dividing line down the middle that separated brown and blue water. It seemed a bit weird at first drinking dark brown water form the stream, but that kind of water, that appears black in deeper areas is supposedly some of the cleanest drinking water you can find naturally. The acidity prevents harmful bacteria from hanging around in it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Trip from Alice Springs to Melbourne

I made it all the way to Melbourne and picked up Josh from the airport Yesterday!! Wahoo!! It is funny how time apart can make relationships better. You realize how much you love being together. We are about to head down to Wilson's Promontory, which is on the beach on the south east peninsula of Australia. It will be nice to share all my experiences with Josh. He loves and appreciates all the same things I do.

I had a adventure packed trip from Alice Springs to Melbourne. First I stopped in Coober Pedy, the opal mining town of the world. It is the first real ‘town’ on the Stuart Highway when heading south from Alice Springs. I went to some underground opal shops and got some advice that 'The Breakaways' were a good place to see the sun set and camp. I drove out to The Breakaways that afternoon taking this dirt/muddy track that I had to be careful on not to get stuck or hit a big rock. This was challenging because the sun was going down right in from of me so I was blinded. I made it to the lookouts just in time for sunset. The Breakaways look like you are on Mars or some foreign planet. Some movies have been filmed there that were set on extra terrestrial planets. I ran around the big mounds for a while then found a good place to camp that would allow me to see the glow on the ‘rocks’ from the sunrise. I made dinner and fell asleep counting shooting stars.

The morning sunrise wasn’t as pretty as the sunset but it was still nice. That day got to be pretty hot but I still hiked around for a while and looked at the dirt specimen under my hand lens. I started to make my way back to Coober Peddy, stopping at interesting looking places along the way. One place there was a hill and the color of the dirt changed from reddish to greenish. I got out of my car and walked around or this ‘green’ colored earth. The cracked ground was sparkling. It was covered with slivers of this clear rock similar to mica. As I walked my feet left deep imprints on the ground because under the cracked layer of dirt and shimmering rock the ground was moist from the rain two weeks prior. I got out my hand lens and looked at the rocks and dirt. Then dug up some of the top layer of dirt to find this moldable greenish clay. If felt really nice in my hands and I imagined Josh sculpting something from it. After playing in the dirt for a while I gathered a large chunk of the clay for Josh to experiment with then headed back to Coober Pedy. I drove around the town. Snooped through the neighbourhoods of underground houses, and went in a few shops. This Chinese man strongly urged that I come in and check out his opal shop when I drove into his driveway. I was just checking out the the old film props he had around his yard from a movie filmed in The Breakaways. But he seemed friendly so I came in. I told him I was not going to buy anything but he kept saying ‘do you like this?’ I finally said I had to have something to eat and was in my car when he insisted that I sit with him and have a cup of tea. I thought, well this spot was better than any other spot to eat my cheese and crackers. He had a great view overlooking the town and tea from Chinese is hard to turn down. I made cheese and crackers and drank tea at a table outside his shop. He had lived in Coober Pedy for over 30 years but still spoke very poor English. He got out some of his English books and I started helping him with his English. He was an interesting Character. I had a nice time there but thought I should probably hit the road soon, it was getting late. When I tried to leave he tried offering me to stay for dinner but I said sorry I had to hit the road. After leaving the Chinese man I stoped at that same art gallery/opal shop I had the day before to thank the man for his help the other day, and that I enjoyed the Breakaways. His name was Andy. He was really helpful before so I thought he would be helpful again in guiding me to another cool place to go. I asked him about this road called the Oodenadatta Track which I was thinking about taking to get to The Flinders Ranges. Andy was helpful again. I asked him lots of questions about opal. He could since my strong interest in Rocks and Art so he taught me how to cut opal and then started giving me opal. I was like really that's OK but he gave it to me anyways. I ended up eating pizza with him and he offered me a place to stay in his underground house. It was cool being underground!! I felt like the Flintstones. He showed me this old documentary on Coober Pedy. And then we went to bed.

The next morning we had Weet Bix (Aussy Cereal) then I hit the road. I decided to take the 'outback' track to the Flinder's Ranges. It’s called "The Oodenadatta Track". It follows where the old Ghan railway was. You can see the old trail tracks and bridges that go across creeks. There was actually tons of water along the track since it rained two weeks before. They purposely made the old railroad follow all the water holes so they had good access to water all along the way. Anyways, the first "town" I hit, population three, was called William Creek and I stopped for gas and checked out the pub because I was told it was a sight to see. It is full of random articles hanging all over the walls and ceilings. I decided I would stay for a Cooper's beer. It was around noon, still early in the day and I was planning on driving much further before stopping to camp. But I don’t call my car 'Wait" for nothin’. I met this nice young fellow, only a year older than me. He is the Pilot of William Creek. The main reason people stop in William Creek is for tour plane rides over the famous salt lake "Lake Erye". During the tourist season there are like 10 pilots and lots of people coming through but right now it is pretty dead around there and Rick is the only pilot. After talking with him a while at the bar and then him showing me around the "town" he offered to take me on a "free flight" in the morning. They had plenty of extra space in the pilot’s house. It was surrounded by all sorts of trees and grass, like a little oasis in the middle of the dessert. Rick taught me how to shoot a 222 rifle. We practiced shooting a target and I got the bull’s eye on my third and fourth try! I have never shot a gun before, besides a BB gun once. After shooting for a lil’ while we drove the quad bike to the nearby creek where there was an old railroad bridge and WATER!! So of course we went swimming! Then we drove to the dam where there is a wind mill and more water! We sat and watched the sunset and the full moon rise at the same time. Then ate dinner with the bar man and cook. It was an amazing evening. The next day we hopped on the small plane (a cessna210). And flew around searching for ferrel cats with this Scientist girl who was really cool as well and around my age as well.
Then I got to take the wheel and learned how to do some arobatics, including the negative ‘g’ where you fly up real fast and the swoop down like you are falling!! Suppa cool!

Oh my gosh I have done so much I don’t I have time right now to write it all!! Me and Josh are about to hit the road. But I will tell you that I ended up staying in William Creek for five days and now I am a professional pilot and rabbit hunter! I learned what it is like to live in the "outback". I did make it to the Flinders Ranges as well and it was well worth it! Did some hikes and camped. I made it to Adelaide and played volleyball almost non stop!! It was great!! I drove all day Tuesday to Melbourne. I made it just in time to go to a concert with my cousins and to pick up Josh in the morning. I love him so much, it is so great to touch him and see him and hear him and 'taste' him!! really all the senses!! Even smell him!! Well gotta go spend time with my man as I am talking about him!!