Heaven to Betsy (Almost)

Friday, March 30, 2007

This is the city: Byron Bay, New South Wales. I’m waiting here. I carry a didgeridoo. Flash back two days, it’s March 28. The year? 2007. It is my friends’ last day in Australia before Chris, Alli, and Kate depart for the sedate beaches of Fiji, and we have quite a lot to do before tomorrow. We awoke early in Noosa Heads to facilitate this flurry of activity, packing up from our apartment and hitting the road in Betsy, my recently christened Ford Telstar. The agenda for the day calls for driving down to Surfer’s Paradise to pick up everyone’s bags, stopping en route at Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo to poke around and Brisbane to get a place for the evening (and drop off the bags we’re currently carrying so there will be room). After picking up the bags in Surfer’s, we’re to head back up to Brisbane to stay the night as they need to be at the airport at 7AM the next morning. A busy day, indeed. Let’s see what befalls our young travelers as they undertake this ambitious outing.

By 9:30, we were on the road from Noosa down to Brisbane, and we arrived at the halfway point, Australia Zoo, just before 10:30. We were supposed to have done this on Pacific Challenge, but since Steve Irwin’s tragic demise, Dave (coordinator of Pacific Challenge) thought it had fallen from grace, and we instead took in the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary with the group. We were still determined to do it on our own, however, and we paid our $36 student admission (yes, it’s really expensive) and entered. Walking past some of the legendary crocs, we found that we’d arrived just in time for elephant feeding. We didn’t brave the massive lines for that but instead wandered the zoo pretty much unhindered. They had lots of cute wombats running around and a little aviary that you can walk through with some really sweet tropical birds from the area, Africa, and South America. They had some tigers as well, which never cease to fascinate me, and, oh, did I mention crocs? We watched a show at the Crocoseum which did seem a little tacky in the wake of Steve’s demise (“Can we have a big CRIKEY for Steve Irwin?”) but it was still interesting. Some snakes, birds, and yes, crocs. We were sitting quite far back but the snap of those amazing jaws was ear popping even at distance. So much power.

After the show, we caught some of the animals we’d missed previously, notably the dingos (one of which licked Alli) and Tasmanian Devils. One of the little devils was running circles and laps rather rambunctiously, prompting me to joke that this was where they got the spinning torrent that is the world’s most famous animated devil. Although we’d seen and held plenty of koalas at Lone Pine, the koalas here were really active and cute and we watched them for a little while as well before leaving for Brisbane. One kept scratching his butt and sliding down the tree onto another koala below, who was already trying to reach some far out eucalyptus.

Another hour and we were in Brisbane, but everything was booked up. We spent a bunch of time on the phone looking for a place and finally found one driving around Kingsfordsmith, near where we’d stayed the last time we were in Brisbane – a nice little apartment for a really sweet price. We unloaded our bags and jumped back into Betsy to head down to Surfer’s to pick Aaron up a gift certificate to his favourite Thai restaurant before heading to Nerang. As we were driving the freeways out of Brisbane, my dashboard lit up. Charge battery, rear lights, brakes, all of the indicators were on. Well, I knew from reflections that my lights were on and my brakes were working, but I still was not sure of what was going on. Maybe just an electronics glitch, and in any case, we had some miles to cover if we were going to stop and get it looked at, so we pressed on to Surfer’s. As we got closer and closer, the interior lighting for the dash seemed to be fading and becoming increasingly unreadable. By the time we made it into Surfer’s, the lights had faded entirely, my signals and hazards didn’t work, and we knew we were going to need to get some help for the car. As we pulled up to the Thai restaurant, the car completely died and we pushed Bets into a parking lot and debated what to do.

I was pretty sure the alternator had gone, though there was some debate about whether or not it was the battery. Regardless, I called RACQ (the Queensland equivalent of CAA) which I had fortunately just purchased a few days prior, and they came out to give us a hand. It didn’t take long to see that my alternator belt had snapped or fallen off and since it was already 7:30, we weren’t going to get the car going again until tomorrow, even though it was a relatively simple fix. But, remember, we had to get the group back to Brisbane to catch their morning flight. I had the car towed to Bryan’s in Miami and while I arranged that had Kate and Alli talk to the Vodaphone operator about train times to Brisbane. There was a 9:50 train from Nerang to Brisbane we might be able to catch that would save the day, but we had some rushing to do. We caught the buses back to Nerang, waiting painfully long amounts of time, and arriving at Aaron’s at about 9:30, throwing our stuff together to get back on the bus for the train station. Thankfully, Aaron’s brother hadn’t been drinking as much and gave us a lift to the train station, so we actually caught the train just in time.

My plan had been to get to Brisbane, make sure they got to our hotel and had something arranged for tomorrow morning to the airport and then get the midnight train back to Nerang so I would be near Surfer’s to sort out my car in the morning and not have to spend the extra hour and a half getting back the next day. The train slowly made it’s way back to Brisbane and was “delayed due to a police incident on one of the platforms”. We arrived about ten minutes before the last train to Nerang, which was actually at 11:23, so plans changed again. We got a taxi to our apartment and were quite relieved after such a hectic day to be back there as planned, albeit circuitously. Kate and Alli had four beer in the fridge and Chris and I had nothing to drink, so the two of us went to find a pub and have a well-earned final drink in Australia. The only thing we could find was a karaoke bar, but we sat there anyway after nearly being mauled by a couple cougars, and had a beer. Chris couldn’t let me buy the last beer, so he bought one, and next thing we knew, they were closing the bar. So we went next door to the gaming room which didn’t close for another hour or so and had a couple more before also closing that place and finally went back home at 3:30 or so. It was an appropriate send off for Aus, I feel, though I would regret the 3.5 hours of sleep the next day.

Which came, yes, at 7 AM when they were leaving. We squared up our collective debts and I walked downstairs with them to say goodbye, wandering back upstairs alone to eat some breakfast and use whatever I could of all the groceries they left behind. Which, given that I was without wheels, largely had to be left behind – a true shame. I called the mechanic at 8AM and they promised me they’d look at the car right away since today I had to get down to Sydney – some 12 hours from Surfer’s Paradise. Then, after a shower, I packed up my stuff and everything I could carry and grabbed a city bus into the centre to catch a train to Nerang. The bus driver was helpful and even called their dispatcher to find out what time the train departed for me. And so it was that I was on the 9:30 train for Nerang.

I arrived and they were holding the 745 bus into Surfer’s for our train from Nerang station, but I decided it would be faster to get my bags now while in Nerang and then I could leave right from Surfer’s towards Sydney. I grabbed a taxi to Aaron’s and picked up my stuff then walked up to the bus stop fully loaded for the first time since leaving Canada. It was a bit of a wait to say the least, but the bus that finally came again had a friendly driver on it that helped me get the right busses to the mechanic (where my car was long since finished and ready). He even hopped off to check a time table at the train station to see if I would have a faster time waiting for the next 745 or going with him. And so it was that I was bound for Pacific Fair on the 745 at 11:35 that morning.

After some confusion in describing what little I knew of the service station I’d never been to and having to pass up a bus I knew would go by the station since I needed to know where to get off and which station it was. Finally, I was in my car with a new alternator belt, some jumper and tow cables, and 4L of oil before I set off for Sydney. The drive itself seemed to go forever. They’re really anti-speeding here and there are cameras all over the place and slow drivers besides. The main highway (the number 1 up the east coast) is two lanes in some points and my average speed limit was 80km/h for some of those long kms. And there were plenty, too, that’s for sure. I stopped for lunch outside of Gold Coast in an airport park – the same one with the terrific vegetables we’d stopped at on the way up the coast a few weeks earlier. Great veggies, and lo and behold, the owners ARE Greek. I didn’t actually stop and have lunch, but just long enough to pick some things up. Likewise, I stopped only to get petrol/gas all along the way, eating leftover vegetables for dinner on my lap and drinking Red Bull as the night wore on and the clock passed 1 AM and then 2 AM relentlessly. I got to Katoomba’s YHA at 2:15 and once I found my key, etc, really enjoyed the hostel. I certainly was anxious for bed, 4 or 5 Red Bull in me or not. And I was shaking like a Polaroid before falling asleep.

Australia Zoo Photos

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