Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Under and Back Again - Pt. IV

Saturday, July 29, 2006
The weekend has arrived!!!! No sleeping in for us, however. We get up at the crack of dawn in order to be ready for our ride. It's too early for us to eat at the hotel, and I realize we haven't told them we aren't eating here today, but I figure it's a fair trade for the late-night entertainment we had to suffer through last night. Besides, maybe the people upstairs won't be too hungover to have a bit of break, but I image some of them will be hating life pretty soon.

It isn't long till our ride shows up: a pickup and two SUVs, all with 4WD, two with surfboards on top. It's still a bit nippy, so everyone is in coats, but nearly all of them are in caps, sunglasses, and sandals. Guess where we're going?

Well, actually, our first step is McDoorknobs McDonalds for breaky. Believe it or not, it's my first Egg McMuffin ever. (I never made it to Mickie-D's in time for those before...go figure...) I also make sure to be extra careful with my coffee, figuring that if I spill it all over myself and get third degree burns, I won't be able to sue them for a couple million dollars and get away with it. The Australian courts just aren't that stupid. (Come to think of it, the U.S. Supreme Court finally struck that case down, so I guess some judges in the Land of the Lawsuit actually think with their brains.) Once we're all fueled up, our squadron aims north and begins its journey.

The landscape changes with surprising swiftness. I'm not only talking about the topography, though that does become hillier. We're getting ever closer to the tropics, and the land around us just keeps getting greener. It's clearly farm country, but beyond the cows and sheep (and kangaroos), nothing is recognizable. For all I know they could be growing body-snatcher pods.

Somewhere along the line we pass a sign on the highway:
"No bananas beyond this point."

Oops...better dump 'em all on the road, mate. Oh, no, wait...
TOO LATE!!!!!!!

Oh, well. At least we kept our agriculture safe.

Seriously, now. We drive along for quite a while, and we finally arrive at destination number one: Tin Can Bay

Not only is Tin Can Bay a beautiful natural harbor and estuary, but it is famous for the wild dolphins that swim right up close to shore and let people feed them. It's apparently quite popular throughout the year. Unfortunately, we wait for a couple of hours, but the dolphins decide not to show up. (The park ranger on duty there says that the dolphins' visits have become less regular recently, most likely as a result of climate change. Uh oh...don't let Michael Crichton hear that!)

We are disappointed. Even so, there is a lot to see besides the lovely scenery. For one thing, it's not every day that a couple of massive pelicans come and perch on a nearby streetlight:

For another thing, did you ever see a police rig like this:


Actually, the policeman is the beat cop for the whole area. He's also an old friend of Mr. M's. Mr. M asks him if he'd like to stop by and join us for lunch later, and he says, "Yeah sure, why not? I'll be in the area." gotta love Australia!

The lack of dolphins also gives us plenty of time to enjoy some coffee and cheesecake. I guess I should take this opportunity to explain the coffee system in Australia. Yes, Starbucks has long since come Down Under (along with everywhere else in the at least semi-civilized world), but if you order coffee in most cafes, restaurants, or pubs, you are given the following list:

Short black, long black, flat white, cappucino, latte.

Cappucino and latte are easy enough to figure out. They are just what they are supposed to be. What about the other three? No, they are not jokes about racist anatomical stereotypes. A "short black" is an Italian-style espresso shot, i.e. an extra strong jolt in a small cup. A "long black" is a more typical cup of black coffee, but it still tends to be a lot stronger than typical (i.e. non-Seattlite) fare in the U.S. or Japan. "Flat white" is simply coffee au lait, i.e. coffee with milk, referred to as such because it is "flat" rather than foamy like a latte. I should also point out that every long black coffee I tried tasted very Indochinese, which makes sense geographically, but it's definitely not for the faint of heart. (For reference, Latin American coffees tend to be lighter and more acidic. North African types are full bodied but smooth, with either a chocolatey or nutty flavor. Central African coffees also have a lot of body plus a bit more bitter (winey?) edge. Indonesian coffee is nothing but edge! I've noticed that both Tully's and Starbucks "tame" their Java blends with Guatemalan or Colombian beans. Australian coffee is generally NOT tame. It packs a punch, and I like it, but it's bound to send most Americans and Japanese scrambling for the cream and sugar!)

Got it? Okay, you can wake up now. It's time to move on. The ride that follows is really quite an eye-opener. For a while we drive through an area that looks rather like a typical, sleepy beach-cabin village on the southern Oregon or northern Californian coast except there are no evergreens. Strangely, there's also no ocean. After a while signs come into view announcing that we are approaching the border of a national park and wildlife preserve (i.e. restricted entry), and then we are at the very edge of a lush rain forest. There is only one road leading to the beach, and it is marked "4WD vehicles only" for a very good reason.

The road is narrow, winding, sandy, and occasionally very steep. It may look peaceful enough in this picture, but it gets pretty hairy at times. It also really sucks when we meet traffic coming the other way...particularly when it's a great, big dump truck! (That wasn't fun...) Luckily, we only wind up with a stuck vehicle once during the entire half-hour drive. However, when we emerge at the other end, this is what we find:

It's called "40-Mile Beach" because (wait for it...) it's 40 miles (64km) of flat, even beach with no civilization anywhere nearby save the other brave souls that have made the trek out there. It's not as crowded as the picture might make you think; we are at the very end of the accessible strand, and that's a sort of gathering point for the beachgoers. Of course, quite a percentage of it is our own group:

(Note that the policeman really did join us briefly for lunch...after citing a biker who was riding wheelies drunk...)

For lunch we have a beautiful, well-stocked sandwich bar and a couple of different salads plus a cooler stocked with soft and not-so-soft drinks. I enjoy a couple of well-loaded turkey & cheese sandwiches plus a Carlsberg and (surprise, surprise) a Crown Lager. That's when my stomach starts ringing some very unpleasant alarms. As some of you know very well, my stomach is actually rather sensitive, and I have not been very kind to it on this trip. Up till now it has been behaving itself. Maybe that strong coffee at Tin Can Bay was the last straw. At any rate, my gut has decided to stop being cooperative. It goes into total indigestion mode, complete with reflux and a stabbing pain in the upper valve. The ice-cold beers burn like acid as they go in, and I have to work to get my first sandwich down. The second, which I accept partly because it's delicious but mainly so as not to upset my wonderfully kind hosts, comes very close to coming right back up. I curl up on the beach blanket and try to calm myself and my reeling system down.

After a while I sit up and open my eyes to find Mr. D out on his surfboard, Ms. Y and Ms. T wading in the surf, and most of the others off on a hike up to the nearby lighthouse. I'm left with Dr. D (our sister-school's principal), Mrs. A (the curriculum director), and Mrs. M, Mr. M's wife, who is the head art teacher. Mrs. M has brought her art supplies with her, and she is working on a mixed-media picture of the landscape while giving instruction to the other two women, who are doing the same. I realize that it has been years since I've attempted any real art, so I accept Mrs. M's invitation to join them. I haven't worked with mixed-media much, so I just stick with the devil I used to know and use just the colored pencils. This is the picture I produce:

(Compare this with the photo above. I left out the vehicles and people, obviously.)

After a while the troops return, and we decide to head out. This time we don't take the four-wheeling roller-coaster ride through the forest. Instead, we take the only other way in or out of 40-Mile Beach: timing the tide, we drive along the 40 miles of packed sand near the surf to the far end of the strand, where we take a ferry boat across the bay into Noosa. It seems that everyone else has the same idea; we form quite a procession of trucks and SUVs traveling along next to the pounding, foamy sea.

From there I get an interesting cross-section of the Sunshine Coast area. Noosa is still a rather old and sleepy-looking harbor town whose population seems to be families that have been there a long time. (I might also point out that Noosa is the location of the tribal council of the Gubbi-Gubbi or Kabi-Kabi tribe, the Aboriginal nation native to the region. Following Andrew's suggestion, I tried to get in contact with them to pay my school's respects to the traditional custodians of the land, but I wasn't successful. The tribe is apparently trying to revive itself, but it is still far too scattered.) Next comes Maroochydore, which is the new and rapidly-growing commercial center of the region. It has the area's largest shopping mall plus the Sunshine Coast Airport and the brand-new Sunshine Coast university. After that comes Mooloolaba, which is tourist central. Like Waikiki, it has a wide, open strand of beach directly across from a strip of very touristy clubs, boutiques, and resort hotels. It's all very beautiful, chic, overpriced, and, in my mind, plastic-looking (like a lot of the people you see walking around there). Then comes the various districts of Caloundra itself. Caloundra also has its beachside resort/nightlife areas, but they seem both more reserved and classier, mainly because a lot of people actually live there. It is also backed by a town that still seems quiet and family-friendly. Whereas Mooloolaba is mostly fancy hotels and neon, Caloundra is mostly condominiums and dark streets. There are also a lot of new middle- and upper-middle-class residential districts popping up all over the place, such as the area around our sister-school. In other words, Caloundra is a nice place to visit, but people are also very concerned about making it a nice place to live. That does make a difference.

Speaking of Caloundra's night life, after we get back to the Currimundi Hotel I am informed by my Japanese colleagues that "we" have decided to go out for Thai food for dinner. (Actually, as the only gaijin in the team, I am often finding myself left out of things, particularly the decision-making process. Sometimes I prefer it that way, but other times...) Apparently Mr. D has recommended a place downtown. I call for a taxi (using a computerized system that identifies where you are calling from and automatically dispatches a taxi there). After we circle around the hilly area around King's Beach, the driver says he doesn't know where the place is. I tell him to let us off at the next corner (over Ms. Y's protests), and we proceed to take a walk. We end up going to a different Thai restaurant, but it still seems popular. We are very lucky to get a table.

First I try tom kha, which is a chicken soup made with coconut milk. It is very rich and quite delicious. So far my stomach is being good, though it's not sure about the Victoria Bitter I'm drinking. Then we make a grievous error with the entrees. Apparently a few dishes are supposed to be ordered and shared by everyone. Instead, each of us orders one or two dishes, which gets raised eyebrows from the (unforgettably wonderful) head waitress. Again, this is Australia, and portions are LARGE even in a Thai restaurant. There's barely enough room on our table for everything. There's definitely not enough room in my stomach, either. My main dish is chicken and green curry, which is also made with coconut milk. It's spicy, of course, but not quite as much as I expected. However, it is extremely rich. After a few bites my appetite simply shuts down. I force myself to eat as much as I can, and I also sample some of the (even spicier) other dishes, but my stomach has had it. It's a lost cause. I'm sure the others think I simply don't like it, but that's not the case at all. After all, when you feel like you're about to hurl at any moment, nothing sounds good. Needless to say, we wind up bringing a lot of leftover food back with us to the hotel. (Sadly, we all know most of it will wind up in the garbage.)

When I try to go to bed my stomach goes into reflux overload. Not just heartburn, but heartinferno. I'm in serious agony here, and the pack of orange juice I am stupid enough to drink only makes it worse (citric acid, DUHHH!). I roll around a lot, and it's hours before I finally manage to nod off. Not a very good ending to a very good day...


  • If you left out the beers, that reflux would probably go right away. There is something about alcohol that makes reflux much worse in many people I know (esp. myself).

    Nonetheless, it sounds like a great trip.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 1:47 PM  

  • If I left out the beers the trip would probably lose about 50% of its greatness, reflux or no. ;-)

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 7:42 PM  

  • I hate stomach probs.. I get a lot of those myself.

    I'm not into the Thai food w/ coconut milk. I've tried a couple and don't care for the richness.

    You sure know your coffee! Not sure that I'd like the coffee there because I'm not one for strong and dark. Arabic coffee is nice but it's very light and somewhat green but still packs a punch.

    The beach is beautiful and you're really good at drawing! Nice picture you have there!

    By Blogger tooners, at 6:03 PM  

  • Huh, I visited a couple times this weekend, so how did I miss this post?

    Anyway, sorry to hear about the acid reflux. I get some problems too, that are probably more triggered by stress than by food.

    I love aromatic Thai food - as long as it does not contain coconut milk. I fail to see the appeal.
    I love the lemongrass, chili, fish sauce, cilantro, and peanut combos more. Much fresher and not rich.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 8:02 PM  

  • Oh yes, I like the drawing of the beach - I wish you'd drawn more!

    By Blogger Olivia, at 8:03 PM  

  • Gee...I didn't expect my art would get such good reviews! Maybe I need to find my colored pencil collection, blow off the dust, and try getting at it again...

    Actually, I never did much with landscapes before. My main thing was drawing people...characters out of stories, particularly my own SF/fantasy work, etc..

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 11:17 PM  

  • Aye aye, get out those pencils, Minstrel!

    By Blogger Olivia, at 10:05 PM  

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