Part 1: Australia. “You’ll be lucky to survive the night.”
I’m sitting on a Boeing 777-200 – essentially a huge metal tube – hurtling across the Pacific Ocean at nearly 600 mph. For the past ten days or so, I’ve been exploring slivers of New South Wales and Victoria in Australia, and Denerau Island in Fiji. All in, the trip home will take 25 hours (the tailwind saves five hours against the trip over!). That’s just enough time to start to write about the trip and, more specifically, the people I met…
I was with my buddy Trevor who hails from a small town in New South Wales called Ulladulla. Now, he and his wife live in Sydney.
By way of setup, Trevor is, at least by my definition, a true Australian: He’s tough as nails, finds humor in everything (especially when those things are American), and is intensely proud of his country. He’s also one of my best mates! It was a lot of fun traveling around his country with him for ten days. I hope you’ll come to like him as much as I do in these few stories…
“You’ll be lucky to survive the night”
I think most of us Americans know that the Outback Restaurant is not a good indicator of Australian culture. However, I have discovered that there are a few things every American (thinks he) knows about Australia:
• The toilets flush the other way
• Foster’s is Australian for beer
• It’s a dangerous place
It turns out that only one of those things is true.
First, the toilets flush the other way because the jets point the other way. Despite what you heard in elementary school, it has nothing to do with the equator, the rotation of the earth, or gravity. For some reason, this unique misperception really gets Trevor worked up. I brought it up once, never to mention it again. Lesson. Learned.
As for the beer, the Aussies I met love it (so long as it’s not Foster’s). In the best of scenarios, asking for a Foster’s in Australia will get you a dirty look. In the worst (and in the right bar), there’s always the chance that you’ll end up with a black eye. It seems you’re safer asking for a Pure Blonde.
But that third thing: You know, that Australia’s fraught with danger. Well, that’s very, very true. In fact, on my first trip to Oz (in 2012), I was required to go through a Quarantine inspection. They wanted to check the bottoms of my shoes to ensure I wasn’t tracking in dangerous microorganisms. Fear not, there were none. As I was walking out, however, the officer called out to me,
I quickly turned around, afraid I’d done something wrong before even leaving the airport.
“Don’t get bit,” he said.
That’s some seriously great advice. You see, what you’ve heard about Australia is true — everything is dangerous. And most things can kill you. Like the snakes and spiders, which are the most dangerous on earth. Heck, even the kangaroos can attack you with their tails. Although, the one I ran into seemed more interested in grazing than engaging my attempt to box him. That ‘roo was the exception…so, to be truthful, nearly everything is dangerous.
So, off we went, Trevor, his wife, and me on the road out of Sydney hurtling at some unknown number of kilometers-per-hour to visit Trevor’s parents in Ulladulla. It’s a beautiful small town along the coast of New South Wales, about three hours from Sydney by car.
Supper was ready when we arrived. And, after 30-hours of airplane food, I was ready for something great. Trevor’s mother certainly didn’t disappoint! It was so good! It felt wonderful to be 10,000 miles away from home and still feel like part of a family.
At one point during dinner I glanced down at my hand — I’m sure I wasn’t falling asleep from jetlag, but merely resting my neck. Anyway, I noticed a large welt. I immediately had a flashback to that Quarantine officer from 2012.
Forsaking appropriate dinner conversation in favor of survival, I asked with characteristically unmasked fear, “Hey guys! What’s this?”
“Oh! Looks like you already got bit.” Trevor’s emphasis on the already made me feel like it was inevitable, but that he expected more time to pass before it happened. I also thought I saw a smile forming.
Candidly, I was hoping to hear something like, “Would you like me get you a bandage?” Or, “May I check it out and see what it might be?” “Are you feeling okay?” Nope. That’s not what they say in Australia. The real empathy came from Trevor’s Dad who humorlessly said between bites of lamb:
“You’ll be lucky to survive the night.”
So, whether you blame my sleepless night on fear or jetlag, I don’t really care. Why? Because I made it! I knew I’d survived the night when I heard a crowing rooster! At 4:30 a.m.
Driving on the left side
Since I’d lived through the night, I figured I was invincible. So, when Trevor offered me the wheel of his car, I jumped at the chance. As you probably know, Australians drive on the left side of the road, which means their drivers sit on right side of the car. As you’re reading this from the comfort of your chair, it probably seems simple and straightforward. Believe me, dear readers when I say this — it’s not.
See, not only was everything backwards, but I also hate driving. This seemed like a bad choice by Trevor (and typical of an Aussie: Let’s put the American in danger and see what happens!). As I settled in and cranked the car, I suddenly felt like I was back in Driver’s Ed: Everything was new again. I got started. It felt okay. I was on a straight road. I even made a right turn. I get this. I’m good! Then Trevor dropped a bomb:
“There are a few roundabouts coming up.”
“Oh. Yeah. Traffic circles. I forgot I have to translate for you.”
“No, I know what it is, but what the $%#* am I supposed to do there?!?”
Well, I felt like a cat who’d used up a few more lives by the time we got home. Somehow, I slipped through the roundabouts (errr…traffic circles) unscathed.