Monday, October 17, 2005

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

During the past month and a half I have traveled via several modes of transportation: airplanes, subways, trams, Shinkansen (bullet train in Japan - my favorite), 4WD tour vehicle, car, and boat. Therefore, while planning my trip into Melbourne I decided to do something more interesting than just fly. I chose to take a bus down (15 hour trip) and a train back (11 hour trip). I didn't really know what to expect of either, and was particularly worried that I got very spoiled by the Shinkansen. Seriously, that is one fantastic train system. The seats are huge and recline to a very comfortable angle, the people selling snacks on the train are so charming, and the ride is fast and smooth. The whole experience is so posh, and I've only been in the cheap seats. Trains to each city depart every hour or so, meaning that even if you miss your train another will be along shortly. An amazing system.

Rachele and family took me to the bus station at 5:30 pm and waved me off as the bus pulled away. In retrospect, it would have made a great picture: Russell was carrying little Lucy, Rachele (very pregnant) had Michael beside her and Caleb was seated on a step in the middle of all of them. They all waved together as the bus pulled away. It was quite sweet.

As I began my journey, I quickly remembered how much I love road trips. I snuggled down in my seat (the coach seats were fairly comfortable) and cranked up some Neutral Milk Hotel on my ipod. We drove through dozens on small towns, and the changing landscape was really nice. After about an hour it started to get dark and the driver put on a movie. Who knew they played movies on bus trips? It was "School of Rock", which I had seen on an airplane. Funny coincidence. When the movie finished, we had a food stop at a little roadside diner in Moruya. Then it was back on the bus where I ate several packets of Chicken flavored Twisties and mused that chicken salt might be the greatest thing in Australia next to Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe. Sometime after this I must have fallen asleep, as my memories consist of me waking up in all sorts of strange positions in the two seats I was using (the bus was fairly empty). The next thing I knew it was 3:30 AM and we were stopping at a petrol station to refuel and use the toilets. While we were waiting in line, the woman next to me smiled and asked "Where are you headed?" I stared at her blankly, just blinking. I was completely spacey with sleep and totally disoriented. Blink. Blink. Blink. Hey, this feels just like when people asked me questions in Japan and it took 3-5 blinks for me to understand what they were saying. Japan. Oh yeah, I went to Japan. Then Australia. I'm in Australia. I'm on a bus to . . . "Melbourne. I'm going to Melbourne."
"Yes dear, I know."
Right, we are on a bus marked "Melbourne."
"What are you doing in Melbourne?"
I tried to explain that I was visiting my cousin, but I don't think I made any sense. The woman told me something about how she and a friend had traveled around in the 70s or something and that she is from Scotland, but really I don't know how much of this is true and how much I dreamed. Too bad, I like hearing people's stories.

Back on the bus, then the next thing I know the bus has stopped and everyone is gathering their things and exiting. It is bright outside.

"Are we in Melbourne?"

Sure enough, we are.

The return trip was quite different, in large part because it was light out. I caught the train out of Melbourne at 8:30 am and was pleased to see that the seats were not unlike those on the Shinkansen. The ride was really comfortable, and the buffet car had decent food.

I sat next to a retired gentleman who was returning from visiting a friend in Melbourne. During the trip we chatted a bit, and when I said how much I loved the outback he agreed and told me about a trip he took 40 years ago. It was a four-week camping trip from the western part of New South Wales down to Adelaide, up through Alice Springs, then onto Darwin, finally ending back in NSW. And this was before the roads were paved. My god. That sounds fantastic.

He also told me about his cousin who works on a wildlife reserve out in the bush. She spends a lot of time rescuing baby joeys from their mother's pouch when the kangaroo get hurt (typically hit by a car). She has a room in her house that is full of sacks she has made for the joeys to replicate the pouches they are accostomed to. She raises them and has about 60 living out behind her house. As this gentleman said, "She's real bush."

The changing scenery was quite nice on this trip, and I saw wild cockatoos, galaas, and a group of kangaroos hopping around. Much cooler than seeing them in a zoo, if you ask me.

Hey - this is my first post without pictures! Don't worry, there are plenty of pictures and stories about my time in Melbourne coming soon.

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