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Goodbye Convict Country

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  The 1st several weeks felt like ages, but as trips always do, time accelerated as we settled in.  I surfed a ton, we worked a little, and we were lucky enough to enjoy lots of time with friends and family.  In the last week or two we begrudgingly broke out of our routine and worked through the process of selling our things or giving them away to friends.  I nearly cried as I sold the 1st board I ever had a hand in shaping.  It was a tear jerker to sell our campervan, “Schmelly” too, even with the love/ hate relationship we had.

We also had to sort out visas for China and Russia and set an outline for our SE Asia journey.  We land in Siem Reap, Cambodia on July 18 and have to be in Hanoi, Vietnam just over a month later.  The guts of the trip will be determined along the way.

On the Saturday of our final weekend in Kirra we had a long day of cleaning our apartment and packing our bags.  We planned a big night out to celebrate our buddy’s birthday as well as our last weekend in Australia.  We had passed on lunch and for dinner figured the liquid diet would suffice.  We made some vodka drinks and made the 3 minute walk to Sam’s house.  After several intense games of foosball and some solid brew drinking the bullshit was flowing.  Out of the blue Nug asked me, “Are you ready to go?”  Confused, I asked what she meant as it was only 10:30.  We walked outside where she admitted, “I’ve had too much to drink.”  I have to concede that I will have too much booze 10x to every 1x that Nug does so I was a bit surprised.  It was obvious that the blue moon had arrived as I struggled to hold a 5’6” piece of human jello.  “I don’t feel good,” Nug said.  “Do you want to walk home?” I inquired.  Her head bobbled affirmatively and on the 2nd shake a strange gurgling sound came from deep within her belly.  She lurched forward and liberally glazed my shins and shoes with regurgitated vodka.  I was aghast and Nug looked up at me with a crooked smile while she stammered “Yes, I want to go home.”  Asia here we come.

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Fools Rush In

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After nearly a week of consistent rain with fleeting reprieves it looks like the sunshine is finally ready to reemerge. It is our final day in Cooly before trekking to Brisbane for a few days to catch some concerts (Lenny Kravitz, The Cranberries, and Wolfmother one night followed by Xavier Rudd the next) and pick up our great buddy Ted so he can spend several weeks with us. We are nearing our halfway point in Australia as we recently purchased one way tickets to Cambodia in July. Ted’s arrival marks the launch of a steady stream of visitors over the next months which will undoubtedly hasten the passage of time. We pass the day by packing, reading and playing in the front yard (Kirra Beach) where Nug snaps a few pics of me surfing. To put a feather in the cap of the day we hike to the top of Kirra Hill with some wine to catch the sunset and enjoy the first rain free evening in days. At the top I suggest we sit on the steep grassy knoll overlooking Coolangatta. “It will be to damp,” Nug responds. I spy a bench in the middle of the grassy area and bolt across the greenery while needling Nug to follow. Halfway to the seat the soggy grass comes to life. It feels as if a rug is being rudely swiped from beneath me to the left and I am suddenly airborne. My feet start churning like the road runner cartoon and both hands strain to roll up imaginary windows. My plight is hopeless. My flailing arms fling sheets of wine into my face. I wince at the burning of wine in my eyes a split second before my entire freshly showered frame Pete Rose slides into the sludge. I look up at Nug with pitiful eyes and am met with the most uncontrollable, disturbing laughter I have ever encountered. I fully expect her to choke on her own chortles. After no less than a minute the witch cackles die down and with tears in her eyes she works out a half-hearted, “Are you hurt?” All I can muster is a pathetic, “Does my pride count?” as I lower my face back into the muck.

Surfer's Paradise

Front Yard Barrel

Budgie Smugglers

Kirra Hill Sunset

Nug and the Sea Eagle

Nug and the Sea Eagle

 

 

 

 

 

The Bali Shop

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An orange poster in the window caught my attention, “Casual Help Wanted”.  The store had all sorts of Balinese exports.  The rowdy streets of Kuta and haggling over cheap treasures flooded my memory.  The main differences are that there was no haggling, no sound of motorbikes streaking by and the prices were 500% higher.

“Hi, my name is Ross and I’m applying for the position you have available.”  A middle age woman with a nose ring looked at me and stated, “I don’t know if you want the job.  We aren’t exactly paying minimum wage and we don’t know how long we will be here.”  I responded, “That’s fine, work is tough to come by here.  When can I start?”

The next morning I skated the 3 minutes down to the shop for my first shift.  Her husband, “Warren” was there in a pair of shorts that looked like they belonged on a teenage girl and I helped him unload imports into the store.  He began, “You from the States, mate?” I nodded.  “I love America!  I could live there.  It’s the best place in the world!” he gushed.  “We are pretty lucky,” I returned.  Warren continued, “Mate, you guys have the best food in the world…the all you can eat buffets are beautiful.  The entertainment is amazing…bloody hell, you have Gilligan’s Island!”  I affirmed (while chuckling), “Those are two massive contributions we have made to humanity.  Sounds like you have hit all the highlights of our country.”

Sue (the woman with the nose ring) told me they had filled a crate with stuff from Bali a few years ago and shipped it all back for an online store that never gained traction.  They were essentially liquidating the inventory.  I have never heard her say anyone’s name.  It is always love, dear, or sweetie…to everyone.  She caught a girl stealing and told the thief, “Love, either pay for the necklace or put it back.”  When I worked at Surf and Skate and we caught someone pilfering merchandise we would tackle them!  It was a peculiar approach but worked.  Later that day she told me, “If you don’t know the price of something, just charge what you think.”

Nug brought me lunch that first day and they asked if she wanted to work there too.  That was interesting since no less than 6 people had come in and asked about a job during the morning.  It has worked out nicely so far as we have been able to set our own schedule of 2-3 days per week.  Nug and I can split the 8 hour shift anyway we want.  They do not care which of us is there.  It’s definitely not going to further our careers but we will be free to hit the road when family and friends get here.

Work uniform

Why Surfing is the Best Sport

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The last few days have found us sauntering down to Snapper Rocks to watch the Quiksilver Pro.  This is the first event of the 2012 ASP WCT (World Championship Tour) and features the best surfers in the world along with a large multinational crowd and media circus.  There is no cost to attend and free stuff seems to pop up everywhere.  Sitting atop the hill with Nug and watching the action go down led me to an epiphany…Surfing is the best sport and here are 6 extremely biased reasons why.

  1. Setting– Surfing involves soaking up sun and floating in the ocean.  It directly utilizes the power of nature.  Quite often I find myself in beautiful locales with blue skies, white sand beaches, palm trees and azure water.
  2. The uniform– Typically, it is done in a pair of boardshorts or a bikini (I despise cold water).  It is comfortable to be half naked and it’s always agreeable to observe the fairer sex frolicking around in next to nothing whether in the water or on the beach.  Let’s be honest…I love snowboarding too but I would much rather see Nug in her bikini than concealed in snowboarding gear.
  3. Travel– Surfing is one of the main reasons I started to travel.  “It might be better if we drive a bit further,” is a phrase that I have uttered a thousand times.  The chase helped me develop an appreciation of the world beyond my local bubble and frequently shoved me out of my comfort zone.  Whether it is a drive one hour down the coast or hopping a plane to the other side of the world, surfing has expanded my horizons to be open to different places, cultures and people.
  4. It’s acceptable to pee yourself– Nowhere else (since I was 2) have I had the freedom to freely pee as I do when surfing.  If the water is cold and I am in a wetsuit it’s even better!  The pros certainly go for it in contests as well.  What would happen if Tom Brady did that on the field?!
  5. Transcends boundaries – My dad is in his 6th decade of life and loves to surf.  Even my wife enjoys it when the waves are small and the water is clear.  On any given day people from 3 years old to 80 or more are enjoying the ocean and the sunshine.  All over the world people enjoy the sport simultaneously on the “same field”.  It offers a common bond that connects generations and cultures.  No other sport builds bridges as successfully between such wide ranges of people.
  6. Accessibility of top professionals– Surfing is one of the few sports where I can regularly participate alongside the world’s best.  Any kook has the chance to split a peak with Kelly Slater (I know from experience) and still have a great time.  How much fun would it be if Kobe Bryant marched into my pickup basketball game and how pitiful would my crossover dribble look to him?  At the contest the pros walk through the spectators to and from their heats and actually talk with fans and sign autographs along the way.

Julian Wilson

Kelly Slater

Taj Burrow


The Cooly Carny

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Shortly after we moved into our apartment in Coolangatta the carnival arrived in town and plopped itself a mere 5 minute walk from our doorstep.  I am not an avid enthusiast of rides but Nug loves them so I knew we were destined to give it a shot.  I dodged the visit as long as possible until I was cornered like a rat and coerced to go.

Our 1st ride, ride, the “Cha-Cha” where we went solo, slung us around like rag dolls.  This reminded me of how Nug and I have distinctive reactions to rides.  As the intensity of a ride increases, she becomes more boisterous and cackles like crazy.  As this picks up speed I whine more, mumble incoherently or pick a choice curse word to repetitively utter.  Next we went on the Gravitron, again as the only riders.  It was a ride that I have always ducked like a wuss and I felt like a true champion for facing my fears even though it did a first-rate job of upsetting the chicken curry in my gut.

When it was still fun...

We then decided to tackle “The Octopus”.  As we waited in line (this was the only ride that seemed to have people on it) I surveyed the contraption.  It had eight arms with what I would describe as a teacup attached to each end.  These teacups spun clockwise or counterclockwise at a horrid pace and with no rhyme or reason to speak of.  The Octopus would tilt on a 45 degree angle that moved as well so you would be shot high into the air before rocketing down towards the ground, and then jetted skyward all while spinning at a maddening clip.  It was finally our turn and the carny that locked us in to our seat had a raspy smoker’s voice along with half a nostril.  The other segment of his nose was cut clean off and sported a gaping black hole that peered directly into his soul.  He gruffly choked out, “Have a nice ride,” and let out a sinister gurgle.  I was horrified!  The Octopus creaked into action and as the dual spinning began Nug commenced her giggling and I started stuttering.  As it increased speed her laughing and my cursing gained intensity.  My line of vision was changing rapidly…stars, ground, girl in the next teacup screaming, lights, cars, kid picking his nose in line, moon, ground, ocean, city, lady smoking a cigarette, lights…and I started to turn green.  I tried to close my eyes but all I could see was the carny’s snout cavity with the background music of Nug’s cackles at max capacity.  Ugggghhh!!!  Is this ever going to end?!?!?  I tried to lean over the edge of the car and Nug bellowed, “Don’t you dare barf!”  I was miserable and could sense the curry creeping.  It appeared to be hours before the ride ceased.  The carny must have noticed us because we were let off 1st.  I maintained as much composure as possible as I tried to prevent a face first collapse into the grass.  As I bolted to the exit with Nug in pursuit I spotted a little kid with cotton candy tugging on his mom’s shirt and pointing at me.  I barely made it out of sight behind the Gravitron before the curry was offered freedom from the confines of my belly.

Mr. Zinc

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The alarm droned at 5am and I wanted to hit snooze but I had sabotaged myself the night before by positioning it across the room.  I was up so I made some coffee and hopped in the “Smelter” for the 5 minute ride to Duranbah.  The tide was low and the waves did not look very appealing in the pre-dawn light.  There were only 10 guys out and the sun had just started to peak above the horizon.  “It’s better than watching T.V.  I’ll give it a float,” I convinced myself.  The water was transparent and little fish darted around below me as I paddled out.  The waves were more fun than I had anticipated.  I was letting the caffeine set in when a little shoulder high nugget rolled in.  At this point the next 10 seconds seemed to go in slow motion.  I saw a guy on a mal (Australian for funshape board) paddling for the peak.  He was a bit far back and had an awful lot of zinc sunscreen on his face for 545 a.m.  I watched as he stood up…or I should say attempted to…since the nose of his board pearled instantly.  As this happened, he threw his hands straight up, his eyes turned to saucers, and he opened his mouth wide to let out a shriek.  I instantly spun around and dug as hard as I could for the wave.  As I stood up I looked back to see Mr. Zinc’s scream stifled as he face planted into the clear water.  I could barely contain my laughter as I dropped into the 4 foot double up and hooked a bottom turn right into the belly of the “beast” (I’m using the term liberally here.).  The wave stood at attention on the sandbar and then inhaled me.  I could see the sun peering through the translucent lip and for a second I assumed the wave was going to swallow me whole and deposit me on the sandbar with Mr. Zinc.  Instead, it spit me out into the daylight like a sip of rancid milk.  I was so stoked that I started fist pumping the air like a kook!  I looked over and saw a 10 year old kid laughing.  I’m not sure if he was laughing at my awkward contortions or Mr. Zinc but there is a good chance that it was a bit of both.

Settling In

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We have a calendar to help us remember our bills.  There are only three at the moment but with rent weekly, electric quarterly, and internet monthly it can get a bit confusing.  Internet is not unlimited; rather you must choose how much data you will use in MB.  We were oblivious as to how much we would require and the guidance, “I have 10MB at home and its heaps,” from the sales rep was less than valuable.  Great we thought as we were setting it up.  Either way we were happy to have the last of the move in goals accomplished.

After three weeks in our Kirra apartment we have started to get comfortable.  The task of looking for work has arrived.  With a 12-pack of beer going for $30 and gas between $5 and $6 per gallon it would be beneficial to supplement our funds.  We applied online at numerous businesses and printed out resumes (or CVs as we were informed they are called) which we took throughout Coolangatta.  We can walk almost everywhere and we each tried 10-15 storefronts to no avail.  Finally, I walked into a surf shop (the 6th or 7th I had tried) and asked, “Are you hiring?”  The cheerful girl bubbled, “Yes we are!”  I was ecstatic until she added, “What kind of board would you like to hire?”  I forgot that hire in Australia means “rent”.  Dejected, we walked home.  At home, Nug asked, “So you want to go try some more spots tomorrow?”  I was online checking the surf forecast as Nug asked this and saw that the outlook was good for the next several days.  “Nah, let’s let our resumes marinate until next week and see if we get any nibbles,” I returned.