Home, briefly: Six weeks in Oz

After five months in South America, the transition back “home” would surely contain a few adventures…

A Spa Adventure

My first week back in Oz I knocked out one of my Coaster items: to get out of my comfort zone and go to a high end Sydney Spa. I had desperately wanted to go full re-spa’d, since I thought this would probably be the only time I’d set foot in someplace like this.

The four and a half hour “Champagne & Gold Indulgence” at The Day Spa by Chaun in the Langham hotel seemed like the way to go all out in the world of Sydney high end spas:

The ultimate indulgence begins with our 60 min Champagne Pear massage where we apply the Babor Shaping Body Cream, containing stem cells of Champagne Pear and berries packed with Vitamin C for extra hydration, followed by our 90 min Babor HSR Skin Lifting facial. Before surrendering your fingers and toes to a 1hr 15min Deluxe Manicure & Pedicure you will enjoy a light lunch including a glass of Champagne to complete your pampering.

But they were booked until early May. So, I downshifted and ended up with a body scrub / massage / facial package at the Hilton. Not the pampering that Princess BJR deserves, but the show must go on.

One of my friends (let’s call them “Friend 1”) had offered to accompany me, not because they were worried about me freaking out, but mostly to witness any humiliation of me during the ordeal. In the end, the presence of Friend 1 ended up being the biggest issue as the staff had not been told per my instructions that we were not a couple.

“So, you’re not going to shower together?” Um, no. And it would have been really nice if you gave me something a bit larger than the tablespoon sized g-string to wear. Though the entire time I was covered by towels, let’s just say the ‘garment’ kept creeping up into places less comfortable.

In the end (pun intended), I actually really liked the body scrub. I’ve had massages before, and this was definitely deep and painful, just the way I like them. The facial wasn’t bad at all, and several people later that day said I was glowing.

One coaster item down, eight to go.

Ningaloo Venturing

I had two close friends (let’s call them “Friend 2” and “Friend 3” just to make it warm and personal), who mean the world to me, traveling around Australia. I had asked a third friend (“Friend 4”) if they wanted to join me on the trip to meet Friend 2 and Friend 3 because they were close friends with Friend 2 and Friend 3. So Friend 4 and I headed to Exmouth, Australia (which I refuse to pronounce correctly), to meet our friends and explore all that the Ningaloo reef had to offer.

The reef is horrible, and no one should ever go there.

Hopefully you’ve stopped reading, and you will never go to Ningaloo, because it was amazing, but I don’t want anyone else going there and ruining it.

The first day we spent snorkel-ing and them swam with whale sharks. We were just 3m away from the 10m shark that was cruising at 2kph just centimetres below the surface of the ocean. After we jumped in the water (“GO GO GO!”) like clumsy, flipper-laden Airborne Rangers, then we were yanked out of the ocean like a changing ice hockey shift, as the choreograph of the spotter/camerawoman, boat captain, and group guides manipulated boat and tourists into the perfect position to start swimming alongside the massive animal in shifts.

After another couple of sharks, we found two sharks swimming in the same area and no longer had to trade off with the other group of swimmers on the boat. By this time I had worked out that quickly swimming behind the shark gave me the whole side of the shark to myself, so I quickly popped over, and spent the next 15–20 minutes swimming closely with a gorgeous, majestic ocean traveler (“Friend 5”). For the last ten minutes, I cleared my mind, and just let the elation of sharing the water with Friend 5 wash over me.

The rest of the week we hit beaches, reefs, desert trails, and feasted upon the finest vegan meats and cheeses in the land (thanks to Friend 4)!

A quick guide to all things Ningaloo:

  • Turquoise Bay: Worth the drive. Amazing coral. Great drift dive. Make sure you know how to swim and read the warning signs. In peak season, get their early or you won’t even get parking.
  • Traella Beach. My favourite, because no one was there and I could swim back and forth. No real coral to speak of.
  • Oyster Stacks. Great snorkel-ing, but you have to time it correctly with the tide (go at high tide only), or you will hurt the coral.
  • There are lots of other small beaches, like Lakeside, T-bone, Mesa, and Neds, that are largely deserted and where you can get away from most other people.
Drones are kinda cool.
  • The now defunct Vlaming Head Lighthouse is worth driving to for sunset, especially if you have a partially cloudy day.
  • The Mangrove Bay Observation Bird Hide is definitely worth an early wake-up and drive out. Try and catch it at sunrise, even if (like me) you think birds aren’t as interesting as wolverines.
  • Skip the Jurabi Turtle Centre unless you’re willing to go at night during Turtle hatching season and bring your red flashlight and sand crawling skills.
  • Coral Bay is beautiful, though be prepared for lots of people who are staying near by. Also be on the lookout for annoying Brits.
  • Ningaloo Whale Shark dive is a great company to use if you want the best in the business and are excited about making new shark friends.
  • The Ningaloo Lodge is a great place to stay with standard rooms and a fully loaded kitchen for your very own family style cooking. Owners could not be friendlier or more generous.
  • The Yardie Creek trail is short but interesting. Elsewhere on the peninsula, the 3K Gorge Trail is pretty nice and rocky. But nothing I saw qualifies as a real hike, though there is supposedly an 8k hike around the gorge, but you’d better have a whale shark full of water or you’ll get dehydrated, and die.
Dan the Safety Dingo says, “Make sure to bring enough water or I will feast on your carcass.”

I am happy to report that every local I talked to is in opposition to all the development efforts in the region, lest it follow the path of the now-not-so-great Barrier Reef. Yes, I just used the word ‘lest’.

Lost at Home and the Autumn Flu

I had missed this.

My return to Australia was not without a slightly bumpy landing and a couple of potholes. Friends had warned me that five months by myself in South America would mean I would need some readjustment to life in Australia. What I didn’t expect was that I did not feel close or connected to the people who meant the most to me for about the first three weeks back in Australia. It didn’t make sense — looking across the table at someone you cared for, and feeling so disconnected.

This spurred a lot of overreaction and misplaced emotion and general confusion for a while, but eventually I settled down and felt 100% BJR again.

On the physical side, my last week in Oz was spent mostly whinging about how rubbish I felt. Apparently on my trip to South Australia (see below) I had caught the Autumn flu, and it was a doozy. Apparently it has chalked up a serious body count this year, and it felt worse than any flu I have ever experienced. But thanks to competent medical personnel (“Let’s give him #allthedrugs”) I managed to crawl on the 15 hour flight back to the states, and am in good nick now.

A Crisis of Planet and of Government

I did not know that I had captured my feelings about the Australian election results two weeks in advance.

I wrote a separate blog on my three day adventure (“Renewables Road Trip”) learning about renewable energy projects in South Australia. I need to keep getting smarter about how we can 1) reverse climate change 2) make Oz a world leader in decarbonisation. I was pumped.

Yesterday, Australia held our Federal Election. I was excited because it was my first federal election. I had voted in a by-election, a state election, and was proud to have been a part of the plebiscite to legalise gay marriage in Australia. I was excited about getting to cast my vote to bring in a new government in Australia who recognised the reality of climate change and was willing to actually do something about it.

While the results of yesterday are not what I had hoped for, there were some highlights and victories, but it only means that the climate crisis needs even more attention, and has me even more focused on how I can make a difference once I return to Oz in July.

In the meantime, I’m spending time with family in Virginia, and that’s a good thing.

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