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Published: October 16th 2014
See previous post for more of an introduction, but after our first night staying with Chris, we decide to just embrace the fact that we are staying with a 60 year old nudist pot farmer and make some plans for the day. We convince Chris to take a "sickie" and skip work so he can serve as our tour guide. It really didn't take that much convincing.
We take off for Crowdy National Park and Diamondhead. I had found the parks randomly in my travel searches, and Chris was the only Aussie who had ever even heard of them. There are 700 national parks in Oz, compared to the 40 or so in the US, so it really isn't too surprising. We pack up and head off in the car, and immediately spot two koalas in the trees outside of Chris's house. That turned out to be an omen, because then journey then develops into one environmental wonder after the next. We see dolphins, whales, abalone, jellyfish, osprey, strangle figs and squiggle gum. There is also a famous arch and gorge and a beach filled with perfect spiral seashells. Chris is an experienced guide, as he has lived
there for 40 years and works as a cartographer. We would have missed a lot without him. Every time he pointed his walking stick, those experienced eyes had spotted another treasure. We then drive down to the beach for lunch, and just chilling in the grass are a family of wallabies, and we see a baby Joey crawl into his moms pouch and start to suckle. It was really an interesting sight.
We then have a sausage roast on the beach and we see a lot of blue bottle jellyfish on the shore. I was a bit freaked out at first, but fortunately they sting but aren't deadly like the box jellyfish. We end our trip at Diamond Head for some beautiful lookouts. We call it a day and Erica and I prepare a vege dinner for Chris and the Swedes. Moa has never had a meal without meat before, but devours everything and at least pretends to be pleasantly surprised. Chris was not to be convinced and fried up some chorizo as a side just in case. We end with Erica's grandma's pumpkin pie, made from scratch with a roasted grey pumpkin and homemade pastry. It's
divine. The thought of a pumpkin dessert is really weird for non Americans, but we are making believers out of as many as we can.
Erica then shared more about her experience at the dairy farm, and honestly it's enough to turn the most ravenous carnivore into a vegan. She talks of the mother cows crying as their calves are taken away, how the cows have souls and will hover around a wounded cow in the field until someone helps them. Cows are now put on an assembly line and milked by machines instead of humans often, even if they are free range cows. I think it would be a really good experience for others to see, so at least dietary decisions are informed and educated. I definitely was really shocked by a lot I heard. I am trying out veganism when I return to the states for 6 months. I know it will be difficult, and unclear if sustainable, but I know it will teach me a lot about where my food comes from, and I feel pretty motivated about it. I am worried about making other people uncomfortable and being a nuisance when out and
about. But we will see how we go!
So back to the kitchen, and Chris keeps pounding the booze, and I'm pretty sure he has a bit of a problem or at least dependence. He shares his story about his wife leaving him and raising his kids as mainly a single parent, and there's obviously some demons behind his eyes. But he lights up when he speaks of his 32 yo German nudist girlfriend he met when she couch surfed at his place last year. To each his own!
Johannes and I wake up before the sun and make our way to the lighthouse for what is supposed to be an epic sunrise. Unfortunately it's too cloudy to get a great view, but the stillness of the morning is still lovely and the "dawn chorus" (the birds chirping in the am) sings in our ears. Erica and I later on do the coastal walk to town, stopping along the beaches en route (7 in all). I'm surprised Port MacQuarie isn't more of a destination. I guess a lot of people retire there.
We hit the road and make our way to
Bellingen. When Erica first planned her year here, she originally was supposed to be in Bellingen but plans changed. So she knew of a lot of special places there she had researched before, and we chose a hostel based on a friends recommendation.
We arrive to the hostel and it's like no other hostel I have visited. Everyone is super friendly and the place is open and clean, but really it is more of a commune than anything. Surprisingly a lot of locals live there - they just pay $100/week and live In tents by the river. It's a different environment to say the least. So we drink our goon (boxed wine) and make friends with the local guys staying there. There are a few girls too - a French and a Norwegian who ended up staying and working at the hostel after falling in love with two local boys. It is very much a "spiritual" and "hippie" atmosphere. It's hard to exactly put my finger on the vibe - everyone is extremely nice and welcoming, and everyone shares and pitches in to clean, but all these young people live at a hostel and get welfare checks
(true) from the government and have no jobs. Their days consist of...nothing. Honestly. Nothing. They run around barefoot and with velour vests they bought in the thrift shop and do drugs when they can afford it and share very deep conversations over bad beer about the universe and crystals. A bit of an anomaly.
I decide to embrace the weirdness of it all and let people chat with me about whatever consciousness is popular that night. We do meet a couple of locals who agree to serve as our tour guides in Dorrigo the next day. We hike through the "never never land" forest and play in the waterfalls and swing from some vines. We also drive through an idyllic pasture and end in "the promised land", a tranquil, secluded swimming hole. We have to make it back for one of the boys welfare meetings, so we then end the night with a bonfire and we make everyone makeshift s'mores as our American contribution to the party. I stayed out until the convulsive guitar playing and conversations about how "the fire is like desire, desire burning in our souls until it burns out into embers..." got a
little too Bellingen for me.
We took off early the next day and checked out a hike on the other side of Dorrigo. We drove to the picnic area and started our walk. We were literally the ONLY people on the trail. It was crazy. We hiked down into a big valley and encountered the first true and epic waterfall of the trip. It was crystal clear and splashed into small pools on the volcanic rocks. We stayed on those rocks and swam in the pools for hours. The best, best afternoon. We reluctantly made our way back, and while eating lunch in the park area, two rangers came and knelt down next to us. It honestly looked like they were about to tell us that someone had passed away. At first we were a bit nervous because we may or may not have had all of our clothes on for our sunbathing sesh. Whoops. But then ranger number one, who resembled a guy you would see on a Harley in a biker bar, launches in,
"You girls having a good time in the park?"
"Oh yes. Best hike thus far
on our trip!"
"Would you like to spend some more time here?"
"Yes. It's a shame we are leaving today. We can't believe we are the only ones here!"
"Yeah, there's a reason for that. How would you like to spend a fortnight here?"
"Because they are demolishing the bridge on the only road in and out of the park as we speak, and if you don't leave now, there's no way out for two weeks."
I guess we missed that sign.
So the rangers lead us out of the park, and there is a huge tractor on the bridge getting started on the demolition. The workers seem less annoyed than I would have thought, and after they make sure the bridge is intact enough for us to drive over, and we hightail it out of there. Oh, oh dumb American girls.
So we left our infamous stamp in Bellingen and made our way to Byron. Little did we know we were heading to paradise.
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