“Nice to meet you! Want to go camping?”

17 05 2010

alternate titles, leading to stories I could tell in this entry but won’t:

“Nice to meet you!  Let’s book a cruise to Antarctica.”
“Nice to meet you!  Yes, I’d love a ride to the hospital.”
“Nice to meet you!  Please ask your grandparents if I can sleep in their guestroom.”
“Nice to meet you!  Let’s discuss your criminal record over dinner.”

More often than not, running off with near-strangers while traveling has resulted in awesome experiences.  Most recently, it’s how I ended up camping on the central coast of New South Wales with a friend of a friend of a friend on Saturday night. 

Sometimes, when doing outdoorsy things like getting lost while hiking or wondering if I just accidentally examined a poisonous plant, I wish I watched more of those reality TV shows that demonstrate how to get along in the wilderness.  This lack of knowledge (paired with questionable survival instincts) is why I don’t trust myself to go venturing off alone with a tent… instead, I jump at every opportunity to enjoy nature in the company of more experienced campers, who can sort out essential things like how we will have hot coffee and toast and scrambled eggs for breakfast, even though we are miles from the nearest cafe. 

In complete disregard for a weather forecast that called for sunshine, rain began coming down about 10 minutes before Marty and I reached the campsite.  Left to my own devices, I would have resorted to eating granola bars for dinner and sleeping in the truck (alright… who am I fooling? I would have checked into a hotel), but Marty had a better idea: set up a camping structure.   Thankfully there was a mom-and-pop sporting goods store still open in the sleepy little town nearby, where even the drugstores had already closed for the night.  Marty described something involving tarps and poles and ropes.  I smiled and blinked as vacantly as a cheerleader in calculus class, and then went to buy a bottle of cabernet. 

We arrived near dusk, which meant that most of the camp setup was done by flashlight.  I didn’t mind at all, since I was the one holding the flashlight.  Then Marty started chopping wood.  I sliced cheese and placed it on crackers.  He built a fire.  I poured wine.  The gorgeous view of the Milky Way, the excitement of watching electrical storms in the distance, and the constant sound of waves crashing just a short walk away was worth all of that work.  We were a great team, Marty and I.

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The informality in Australia makes for some interesting marketing.  The hold recording for a travel agency rotates between statements like these…

– “On holiday, you don’t want to worry about details.  When you book with us, we take care of everything.  We’ll even call your mum for you!  Ok, that’s crap.”
– “Everybody wants to sleep with us!  We can’t say we blame them; we have the best rates on hotels all over the world.”

The side of a box of tea describes the perfect Australian teatime as including insulting your friends.  An orange juice bottle announces that its contents mix well with dubious company, and that combination “can get you into all sorts!”

_________________________________________________________

“I drank the stubbie, I ate the pie.  It was good to be here.”
     – note left on an Australian grave, along with the empty bottle of beer and a crumpled paper bag… littering at its best.

Drinking is sort of a national pasttime for Australians and Kiwis.  It runs the gamut between being a touching way of remembering one’s mates, to being a fun excuse for dancing like an asylum escapee with a cloud of imaginary bees encircling one’s head, to being an acceptable explanation for the lack of explanation behind scars and broken bones – known as Unidentified Drinking Injuries.  One could argue that this is not all that different from the United States, but people Down Under do it with a great deal more gusto.  It’s possible that the Irish are on par.  I plan to conduct studies this autumn on the subject.

Irish woman at a tourism center, while reviewing a map of the area with my Kiwi friend: “there’s a good pub here, and a good pub here, and you should definitely go to this pub…”

Kiwi: “Ok, but what is there to do other than visit pubs?”

Irish woman: “you are a Kiwi, right?”

__________________________________________________________

Traveling in Asia, one of the first things locals would ask me was if I am American.  But when I arrived in Australia, suddenly people were asking if I am Canadian.  Why?  Apparently, Canadians get upset when people think they’re American, but Americans don’t care what we’re mistaken for.  Maybe some Americans even liked being mistaken for Canadian, between January of 2001 and January of 2009. 

When I landed in Perth, the flight attendants said, “welcome home,” as I walked out of the plane.  It’s possible that that was merely a standard farewell, but I smiled at the idea that this place could be home.

In 10 days, I land in Los Angeles.  I smile at the idea that that place could be home.


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