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Monday, May 15, 2017

Oz: When Are You Done? How You Can Tell....

Check out Sarah Steenland's brilliant cruising comics at www.www.sarahsteenland.com!  As a cruiser traveling 'round the world with her family, her perspective is not only funny, it's spot-on.
We bought a boat in St. Lucia in 2012.  We sailed it halfway around the world, arriving in Bundaberg Australia November 2016. 


Journey, "home" from September 2012 - February 2017.
Sydney Australia, just before she was sold.
We sailed to the Sydney area. where we sold our boat.  Then, between February 2nd and May 6th, we completed a clockwise circumnavigation of Australia.  The first part by sea from mid-November until January.  The other 10,500 miles we traveled by van, then a 4-wheel drive Land Cruiser, from Sydney to Brisbane, the longgggg way.  
While the van required massive downsizing from the boat, the kitchen was pretty functional with a couch and table, all inside.
However, the van wasn't designed to go where we wanted to.  We sold it and bought the Land Cruiser.  
And yet, we left long before we saw much of what we came to Australia to see.  Why?

If you're considering a long travel adventure, or you're on one and you're wondering when it's time to end it, this post is is for you.

We claimed our deciding factor for leaving Australia was not shelling out the substantial chunk of change to convert our casual visitor VISAs to year-long visitor VISAs before the former expired expired in mid-May.  

While the VISA expiration was one deciding factor, it was not the only one.   

Truth be told, we were road-weary and homesick.

Australia's become quite expensive.  The less time we spent in Australia, more there money would be available for transitioning back to the USA.  

Still, it was not an easy decision, as it carried far greater ramifications than just leaving Australia.   Leaving Australia meant not just leaving "Oz," it also meant giving up our nomadic life, becoming a CLOD (Cruiser Living on Dirt - credit for this acronym goes to our Evening Ebb cruising Dirk).  

When it comes to major life transitions, I view the catalysts in two parts -- there's a "going from" and there's a "going to."
Our Landcruiser and "home" from March - May in Australia.  The most comfortable, capable trip car we've ever experienced.
"Going from" is when some itch, sense of dissatisfaction, dissonance sets in.  Too long without enough respite and this urge takes on the urgency of a gong, pounding out "flee.  flee.  flee." The longer the situation goes on, the stronger the impulse becomes a pulse insistent on change.  Through it all, the feeling persists that the best ticket to happiness requires more a change without to recapture inner happiness.  

"Going to" is more driven by curiosity or adventure or even a sense of duty.  Even if you're perfectly happy with your life where it is, there's this tingle, this vibration, this niggling notion there's something else, compelling, that cannot be ignored, at least not forever.

Ideally, when the time comes to make the leap, both "going from" and "going to" are in harmony.  That way the "going to" provides some clarity of direction or goal, and the "going from" assuages any regrets about obligations and familiarity left behind that might otherwise distract from making the most of the move.
Boat work in paradise.  Mast view of Journey off glorious Fakarava, Tuamotus, French Polynesia.
What comes first, "going from" or "going to"?  To me, that question's akin to asking the age-old saw, "What comes first, the chicken or the egg?" As well, either one can be the more compelling of the two.

Philosophical views aside, while the VISA deadline forced our hand, why did the homesickness bug bite hard enough for us to leave three month earlier than our original plan?

For me, my "going to" was driven by a keen desire to go home to see my parents.  I have not seen either of my parents since December 2014, when left Florida to begin our long journey, ultimately sailing halfway around the world.  

Neither of my parents are young. Neither were very happy about my embarking on our wild and distant adventure, as it was obvious given our budget and plans, unless there was an emergency, I would not see them for years. Like most parents, they worry, and the unknown is that more worrisome.  Yet, the kind of life I would need to lead for my parents to not worry is not the kind of life that would make me happy.  Nor did I want to want to wait until my parents died until I left, as I didn't want to find myself resenting them for it.  
Dad and his current wife, Adrianne and their dog, Max.
My father turns 93 in August.  He's doing pretty well for a guy with diabetes and a bad ticker.  His energy level isn't what it was, and he needs a walker to get around, but his mind's still sharp as ever, and he still enjoys a rich social life.  I miss him.  None of us lives forever, and don't know how much more time I'll have with him.  I don't want to let that opportunity slip until it's too late.
Mom, not a big traveler, posing in front of an image of a street scene in Delray Beach FL before I left to go cruising.
I last saw her, December 2014.
My Mom is 86, and the gene Gods dealt her a better deal; her health is quite good, and, fortunately, like Dad, her mind is still her own.  Of course, I miss her too.  While I do believe she'll be around for a lot longer than Dad, not seeing Mom for 2 1/2 years, especially given how rarely we've been able to stay connected by phone is wayyyy too long an absence.  Since I left to go cruising, my Mom's re-partnered.  I'm looking forward to meeting her "new boyfriend" (that silly term we use to describe the male in a partnership regardless of their ageat long last. 

Of course I miss my brother and his family, too.

Much as I dearly love my husband, like most husbands, his presence cannot provide for all my companionship needs.  Nothing completely replaces the kind of connection women friends have, and that is something I have missed dearly.

Thus, I miss my friends, especially my best friend Anna, a friend for more years than I like to admit I've even lived.  While as longtime best friends, we're are able to pick right off where they left off.  Still, there is far too much that's happened in both our lives in the last 4+ years since we've seen last each other.  While geographically separated for most of our friendship, I have tried to "be there" as a friend for Anna, yet there's a limit to how much that can happen when you're half a world a way, generally over the water, on the road or in a 2nd or 3rd world country. 

In our shift from keels to wheels, from the sea of ocean to Australia's vast sea of empty land, the desire for familiarity, stability and comfort's become keener.  On our sailboat, we did have a home, albeit a tiny, mobile one with limited electricity and power and more subject to the forces of nature than a traditional home.  While we moved, the boat and everything in it moved with us, qualifying it as "a place for my stuff" it still met the George Carlin definition of home.


While transient, aboard Journey we also felt a sense of community -- with other cruisers, as many of us shared a similar weather-dictated track, as well as the uniqueness of our shared lifestyle.  We're rare birds, those of use willing to give up so many conveniences and familiar surroundings in order to explore life and the world from a different perspective.
Johnny and Danni on Miramar were one of the few bright spots for us in an anchorage of mostly uninhabited boats.
Once we tied off at the boat broker's mooring in Sydney's Newport 'burb, the boats around us were mostly vacant, with a few live-aboards who were mostly gone as they commuted to work, or joined the friends and family that tied them to that community.  We did appreciate getting to know our delightful live-aboard neighbors Johnny & Danni on Miramar, who were beginning their watery adventures as we were ending ours (at least, for the foreseeable future).

We had to laugh when Johnny referred to us (Wayne, methinks) as "a legend."  We replied "Wayne says he's not a legend because he doesn't have a rugby tattoo next to his balls."  (Seriously - the urban dictionary definitions for "legend" are a hoot! - check them out!).  We love that Johnny and Danni have shared their early sailing adventures with us and believe before long we'll be calling them "legends."  Whether or not Johnny has a rugby tattoo next to his balls we do and will not likely know.


The first of many loads of our stuff transported from the boat to the van.  Ultimately, much of what was transported was given or thrown away.  A few small boxes were mailed back to the US.  There just wasn't room and the van couldn't handle much weight.
Switching to the van, then again to a Land Cruiser to call "home" was a much harder transition.  Not only did it require a drastic paring down of all material possessions we carried with us, it marked a clear and distinct end to connecting with somewhat regularly with fast-found friends who shared a similar lifestyle and value set, and were more often than not close to us in their age and stage of life.  Odds were, with few exceptions, anyone we met we were unlikely to ever see again; they would nearly all be "single serving friends" (the term stolen from movie "Fight Club").

For me, moving from the open ocean to the open road stepped up my sense of isolation, despite our increased mobility, relatively consistent access to phones and more regular ability to connect via the Internet.  Yes, I could more easily walk away for solo time, but if I wanted time with anyone other than Wayne, who was there?
In Australia, this sign is is an almost sure guarantee the slow vehicle in front of you will speed up enough to make passing impossible.
Granted, there were exceptions, particularly when spending time with and staying with friends.  

We are particularly grateful to friends Chris and Chris on Scintilla, where we spent our first night off our boat, on theirs.  As well, it was a rare treat to spend time with my friend longtime fellow Hewlett-Packard alumni Rob in the former Gold Rush and now thriving college town of Bendigo.  We also loved the warm welcome extended to us from a recently made sailing friend, Pete of and his family including their dogs and chickens, in the quaint German-themed town of Hahndorf, outside of charming Adelaide.  
Another brilliant Sarah Steenland cruising comic from www.www.sarahsteenland.com! 
Cruising by van and 4WD has it's frustrations and pleasures, too.
Whilst Broome broiled in 100+ temperatures and by dusk boiled with wickedly biting midges, Simone saved us -- twice -- by hosting us at her blissfully air conditioned home.  Again, we are incredibly grateful and hope Simone really meant what she said.... That she didn't hold it against us that we realized too late her rambunctious dog Tillie's  dog-drool-wetted toy stained "our" bedroom walls orange from its muddied dirt when she stopped in to "ask" us play.

In Perth, where we caught up on some overdue dental and doctor checkups, we are incredibly grateful to our gracious trio of Couchsurfing hosts, MaryLu, Carl and Paul.  MaryLu's now off on her own travel adventure, in France.  Carl's mulling his next move, and Paul is looking forward to resuming his travels.  As both Carl and Paul were brand new to Couchsurfing, we hope we were good enough guests they'll host others, and consider becoming a Couchsurfing guest when they travel.

At the end of our Australian odyssey, we also reconnected with Helene and Steve. We met through the wonders of Facebook, where mutual friend Bertie from Jacksonville Florida connected us up.  They generously put us up in their comfortable Brisbane home for over a week while we got our stuff together to leave the country.  We enjoyed some great conversation, nibblies and sips.  A friend of theirs bought the Land Cruiser we needed to sell before we left.  We are hoping to host Helene and hopefully Steve too when they visit the US.
Bronte, Steve & Helene's dog, mourning the lack of a "fetch" partner.  Brisbane Australia.
And still, these connections, heartwarming as they were, made up the minority of our time.  

Mostly, we were quite isolated.  

Australia is a vast land, comprised of wide open spaces with little in between distantly located towns, cities and parks.  Our greatest portion of time was spent sitting in a car, driving across mostly dusty, flat terrain, with little greenery in terms of plants, trees and shrubs.  

Primarily we camped, in anything from a rest stop, to a "free camp" with nothing, to more park campsites with bush toilets or better, the rare trailer park and the occasional splurge of a backpacker lodge or low-end motel, one really nice one in Queensland.


You could stand up in our tent, and see the stars and big enough for a queen-sized mattress, but we used the double that fit in the Lancruiser.  The tent offered much better breathing room than the Landcruiser, where we slept when the ground was unsuitable
for a tent or we set up late or left early.  Keeping most of the bugs out requires special planning.  
I longed to cook in a kitchen with cupboards and and a pantry, running water, a stove, a refrigerator, a microwave and an oven.  Sure, we got to cook in backpacker lodges and at our Couchsurfing hosts, but I found myself lugging stuff back and forth between our Land Cruiser and whilst I invaded yet another kitchen, and had to sort my way though how everything worked and where to put my stuff where it hopefully wasn't too invasive.  There was also my limited wardrobe, toiletries, laptop, book, etc. that moved to wherever I rested my head for the night, then back again to our Bohemian "home on wheels."
Our Landcruiser went everywhere we wanted (except low parking garages).  However, the only seating away from the bugs
was the driver and passenger seat,  Anything I cooked with had to live in the 4 bins that fit under the converted bed;
that included pots, pans and a small single-burner propane camp stove.
While Wayne certainly shared some of my sense of isolation, his travel weariness was greatly exacerbated by being tired of driving, dealing with the heat, and by the bugs.

Many camping evenings Wayne holed up in the Landcruiser, periodically turning the engine to relieve the discomfort from the 88 - 100+ degree temperatures* with Land Cruiser's air conditioner.  If he planned it right, he was able to keep most of the bugs out.  I tried to read outside until I either got too many midge and mosquito ("mozzie" as they called 'em in Oz) or the amount of bugs dive-bombing my laptop or flashlight-lit book was too annoying.  Then I would retreat to our tent where I was mostly able to read in peace until it was time for my lights-out for the eve.

*Those temperatures were not nearly as bad as they could be as by that time it was Australia's fall, though it was in the country's hotter, closer-to-equator areas.  The upcoming weeks the temperatures would mostly drop to a little more comfortable level.

Then of course, there were the spiders, one of the more common "many things that can kill you" rampant in Australia's great outdoors.
Ironically, big scary bugs like this huntsman spider (nearly the size of my hand)
were pretty benign. It was ubiquitous little biting insects that ultimately
were the bigger problem for us.
We'd already dealt with massive flies, midges, mosquitos, spiders and inside a hostel in Coral Bay, locusts.  We were due for the next plague.... Enter the cane toads.  One night I was racing to finish cooking dinner before sunset fell at 5:30. As washed dished in the darkness. I was soundly startled when a toad leapt from the high upper window of the campground bathroom onto the plates I'd just washed in the campground kitchen.  It was not a high point for me. 

The clincher that solidly tipped the fun-to-suck ratio for us was one of our last nights camping.  We were free-camping at a spot several miles down a dirt road near a lake, enjoying the eve as the temperatures dropped to a pleasant level.  The bugs drove us both inside our tent, where we hung a dim lantern, using our flashlights to read.  

We heard a light, steady pat-pat-pat patter that sounded like light rain.  When we looked up, we could see Australia's usual amazing, undimmed by light pollution star show, Southern Cross, Orion's belt, the Milky Way and more.  The rain-like sound couldn't be rain, as rain would not fall from a cloudless sky, we surmised.

No, it was bugs.  Thousands and thousands and thousands of bugs attracted by our lantern's dim light; they wanted to get closer to it.  What we we heard was the sound of their bodies slamming against the outside of our tent.  Thankful as we were the tent kept them outside, we were undeniably grossed out.  
Our bed in the Landcruiser:  cosy.
Bohemian and minimalist as we were, curious as we were to explore and appreciate what Australia's unique and amazing land had to offer, we longed far too much for the protection of 4 walls and roof in a home with comfortable chairs and a normal, queen-sided bed in a space we could walk around in, have more than 2 feet of headroom above our mattress and a flush toilet a few steps away.

We were done.  Australia was where we planned to end our adventure all along; we just choose to end it there sooner.

From that point, it was just a matter of calculating where to fly out of, how long it would take us to drive there and how much time we needed to divest ourselves of the Land Cruiser and booking a flight.

For those of you interested in Australia, please do not let the travel-weariness that affected us dissuade you. Heck, part of the reason we left before seeing "everything" was to have a good reason to come back and see what we missed, as well as return to some favorites.

Australia is a weirdly wonderful one-of-a-kind place well worth a visit or even a place to call home.  No where else will you see kangaroos hopping about in the wild (and they're kinda tasty, too), or ostrich-like emus towering over grassy plains (or - crossing the road!).  Where else will you be amusingly taunted by the cackling laughter of the kookaburra?  Or the screech of massive flocks of snowy white cockatiels? Or the warble of the magpie (much less when they sound mewling like cats or infants crying)? 


If you see a kangaroo that looks like this, it's time to pull of the road
and take a rest as you're hallucinating.
WIth visiting Oz, you're also unlikely to savor the taste of Moreton Bay Bugs, quaff a zingy ginger beer made from Budgerium cordial or the more traditional Ozzie alcoholic version with classic Bundaberg rum in a "dark and stormy" (with TimTams on the side)  or debate whether or not inland (vs ocean-going) "Barrys" (barramundi, a common Australian fish) are edible.  These globally connected days, it's not that hard to find vegemite to make a vegemite sandwich.  By the way, while "barbies" (pronounced "BAH bees") are prolific, the ones in parks are really just big griddles, and Aussies don't grill "shrimp," they grill "prawns."

Besides New York Times Square, few place are considered more epic to ring in New Year's Eve than Sydney Harbour -- and it's summer there then!
Christmas in Australia.  These Santa were on an Australian storefront.
For us Northern Hemispherians, Australia offers the novelty of enjoying summer from December - February.  In Australia it makes more sense for Santa to wear a speedo than a heavy red velvet suit.  Many parts of Oz still exude tropical warmth in the winter.  For weather-savvy sun-lovers seeking an escape from the cold, well-timed Australian travel can be paradise. 

Though we didn't stop there this time, there's few places in the world that can compare to the breadth of Australia's Great Barrier Reef.  But we were enthralled by the aqua seas and uncrowded white beaches of South Western Australia, where the waves are more magnificent than I've seen anywhere else.  El Questro's vivid orange gorges and waterfalls are stunningly beautiful.  The list of additional reasons why Australia's an awesome place to visit is long....

Nonetheless, in our case, it was simply time to go home.
Another brilliant Sarah Steenland cruising comic from www.www.sarahsteenland.com!
Cruising by boat, van and 4WD for most of us require the sacrifice of creature comforts.
If you're contemplating a major change, listen to your heart.  Pay attention what makes you happiest.  Be willing to recognize when what you're doing is no longer giving you the kind of joy it used to and admit it to yourself.  Then take action. Even when it's the grand adventure itself.

Location Location
We are currently in Portland Oregon.  Home will be where we can land living-wage jobs in a place we like.  We're not yet sure where that will be, though for now, it will be somewhere in the US.  Wayne quips, "We went from a grand 5-year adventure to being homeless and unemployed."  I prefer to look at it as "All possibilities are open."

Up Next
There's still oodles of great images and stories and information (for example, the process and detailed expenses required to importing and selling a boat in Australia) and that will continue to be posted on GalleyWenchTales.  There's also lots of short video clips awaiting editing before posting.  Maps will be added with routes marked to provide better visual summaries and browsing the posts will become easier with organized groups of links.  And there will be a post or two about the culture shock that occurs when coming home to a place that's changed almost as much as you have while away.