Thursday, June 10, 2010

Buddhists, Burglars and the Beach…..

As I write this blog it is Friday morning and we have arrived in Main Beach on the Gold Coast. Since our last blog we have travelled form Yeppoon to a little town called 1770, named after Captain Cook and his first contact with Australia. The park at 1770 was named Queensland's best park as it is situated right on the beach front. Whilst we had escaped the crocs and stingers of the north we were now confronted with the presence of stonefish and were discouraged from swimming or even walking in the water without footwear. 1770 though had the most beautiful sunsets you can imagine. There was a pilgrimage of campers at around 4.30pm in the afternoon as people headed on mass to the beach to sit and watch the sun go down. For the next 60 minutes or so there was the most amazing range of changes in the sky as first the sun set and then there were the ever changing shades of red and blue as the glow of the setting sun transformed the sky, even the kids were impressed. We had some nice walks along the beach, Indy's pancakes at the park one morning, and some good park time with the kids along the 1770 beachfront. We also had a nice beach day over at nearby agnes water where we were able to swim again. The water was crystal clear and beautiful. On our final morning we were packing up the camper, Indy had taken Gus for a short walk to the beach and everything seemed fine. Next minute we hear Gus walking up the road followed by a young lady with Indy and Mags nowhere to be seen. The lady had seen Gus walking up the road by himself and apparently asked him where he was going and he replied "I am going to see my mum" and he did. It turned out that Indy had decided to take Gus down to the park, got sidetracked in a game with Maggie and Gus decided to head off for a walk. Fortunately no damage done but a constant reminder of the challenges of a wandering 2 year old. I recalled the time when I was about 2 or 3 and apparently I walked almost a neighbourhood away, crossed a busy road to see the horses that lived nearby to our home. Gus wasn't quite this dramatic but remember he is only warming up.

From 1770 we headed back to the sunny coast and our stay at the lovely Coolum Beach. The drive went well and we arrived to our campsite again right on the beach at Coolum. After setting up Bec headed down to the beach with Gus and Mags and Indy and I did some shopping, picked up a bottle of bubbly and we enjoyed this on the beach as the sun was setting. After all of our trips to the sunny coast we had never been on the beach at Coolum and it was incredible. The next day the Westys arrived to stay at our neighbouring campsite. We had a great few days with Dave, Dan and the kids and some great waves at Coolum Beach. As you may recall from a previous blog Dave is affectionately known by Gus as 'Dragon Man' due to his dragon tattoo on his arm. Dave was very thoughtful and bought Gus a dragon tattoo to sick on his arm and Gus instantly became Dragon Boy and thought he was very tough. The weekend though was not short of its dramas. On the Saturday night at about 12.30am I was sleeping with Gus and I heard Bec in a very manly voice yelling "GET OUT OF THERE" and it was one of those surreal moments. I had no idea of where I was or what was happening. At first I thought Bec was calling to a possum in our bin but she was far too ferocious for that. It turns out Bec had earlier caught someone in our annexe going through her box of clothes and she banged on the camper and he had run off. She sat and watched for a minute as she had seen someone else out the corner of her eye. It turned out that this other person was scoping our car and just minutes later she saw the light come on in the car and a guy trying desperately to turn the interior light off, without success. It was at this point that big mama got out her man's voice and scared the intruder off. By the time I had worked out what was going on and had gone out to inspect there was not much to be seen. We did a quick pack up of anything valuable, locked the car, something we had gotten very relaxed about whilst up north and went back to bed with an ear to the outside. As it happened Dani had been going to the toilet a little later and saw a man in her car which she had assumed was Dave. She said to the guy (thinking it was Dave) "what are you doing in there?" He replied to Dan, "this is my car". At this point Dan realised it wasn't Dave and proceeded to have an argument with the intruder about whose car it actually was. He was in the process of trying to steal Dave's surfboard. Fortunately Dan managed to scare him off before he completed his task. So whilst the big boys slept our little women were on the job scaring off intruders and keeping us all safe! It turned out that several campsites were visited in the night and also the next night. Fortunately for us we didn't lose anything this time around. During the day the kids had some great time with the Westy boys, playing in the park, on the beach, and at the local park. Maggie just loves playing with other kids and Indy loves being in charge and being the oldest she had reserved the right to be leader of the pack. We played lots of games on the beach with the kids, sandcastles, flags, catch, beach cricket etc, and had a great time. One last little story, Gus was swooped by a small bird which actually cut his eye lid (only a small scratch) but certainly gave him a fright. Little man is certainly experiencing a broad range of experiences, some good, some not so good.

One of great highlights for us on this trip was our trip to Australia Zoo. Again for all the times we had been up here I hadn't had the opportunity to go, the girls went some years ago but the zoo had grown significantly since their last visit. It was amazing. The park was built so well and the range of things to see kept us busy all day. From the minute we arrived there were keepers standing just inside the front gate with baby crocodiles and lizards. Within 60 seconds of entering Gus and the girls were patting a baby crocodile and a lizard, it was just incredible. The kids had been watching the croc hunter movie all the way up so you can imagine there excitement at patting a croc! We patted kangaroos, saw snakes, crocodiles, amazing birds, alligators, lizards, elephants, echidnas, and an amazing tiger exhibition. There was just so much to see and do. We saw the show in the crocosseum which was just amazing to see the crocodiles in action. Indy and Mags and even Gus all had their photos taken holding a large python. Indy and Mags were exhilarated by the fact that they were brave enough to do this by themselves and as Gus woke up just as the photos were being taken we also got a photo of Gus and the girls holding the snake. After a day of walking around non-stop we visited the animal hospital on the way out. This facility was built by Steve in dedication of his mum Lynne and treated injured wildlife. We were able to walk around the hospital and through glass see the ER in action as animals were brought in. The hospital treated hundreds of animals every month and even had a koala ICU. The trip to Australia Zoo was just incredible to see a family who were so dedicated to their passion and mission in life. To think that a guy who liked to catch snakes and crocodiles had, through his passion for his cause, been the catalyst for the building of this amazing legacy. It was such a highlight to see the work of Steve Irwin and his family, it was almost unbelievable to see how all of this had unfolded. As Bec and I walked around the park we had the inevitable sense of sadness at what a loss his death was. It is so pleasing to see his legacy though continuing on through his zoo and ofcourse through the work of his family. What a great person he was and we felt very fortunate to be able to experience his work first hand.

Our last couple of days at Coolum were pretty quiet but nice. I was able to have a great surf to finish off a great surfing stop. We picked up some fresh peas at the supermarket, one of our favourite vegetables, and made a beautiful fresh pea and chicken risotto. Whilst we have been living life on the road our housesitter Maree has been busy managing our renovations at home. We have been getting a wall knocked out, new kitchen and flooring put in, ensuite retiled and new toilet installed and Bec had been managing this all by phone and long distance. So far so good and Marie has been a saint. We are assuming ofcourse that they have knocked out the right wall!!!! Bec was able to have a very inspiring visit to the Buddhist temple in the mountains behind Coolum with our good friend Amber. As I wasn't a party to this visit I will hand over to my beautiful wife to share of her experience….

On Wednesday Amber came and collected me from our Park to chauffer us on our beautiful scenic drive meandering through the hills to the Buddhist Retreat Chenrezig. Whilst I was so excited about our destination, the drive and some quiet time and space to be with Amber and chat was just what I needed! As we arrived the peace and tranquillity was palpable and you couldn't help but slip into a calm state. I turned my phone off and was ready to soak up every last ounce of this opportunity. As we walked into the grounds we came to the little café first. The café was filled with training Monks, Nuns and every day Joe's like me. You had to book well in advance as there was limited seating and they only made a certain amount of food and once that was gone, there was no more! Amber and I collected our lunch (there is only one option on the menu!) and went outside to find a quiet spot amongst the trees to enjoy a delicious vegetarian meal. (as you may not know Buddhists don't believe in harming any animals, hence vego only) After our lunch followed by delicious desert of chocolate brownie and pecan pie, we headed off to walk down our sumptuous feast and explore the amazing facility. We explored the prayer wheels, shrines and Temple which was a spiritual and visual treat with it's array of bright colours and textures. We then ventured down to the gift shop and mooched around exploring the great collection of reference and reading books, prayer flags etc. Amber and I both added significantly to our current collection of Buddhist literature and Amber very generously gave me a gift of prayer flags and a book on how to meditate, both of which I shall make excellent use of. On our drive home Amber took me past her, and her husband Corey's, home that was being built in Buderim. The views were incredible and their plans for their home are awesome! Back to the park to reunite with the family, recharged and refocussed after this special experience…Thankyou Amber!…..

Me again….things are going well for us. The trip north was a little draining but now we have relaxed and are definitely enjoying our time heading South. It is getting cooler, especially at night and Bec has even had cause to get the heater out on occasion. We have been keeping up with Master Chef, usually via the internet watching episodes as we go. Things are slowly becoming clearer for us in terms of our work and life choices we plan to make back home. Whilst taking the best part of 6 months off was a huge risk when you are self employed it looks like the work is starting to trickle in for when I return with numerous requests for support coming in over recent days. Bec is likely to start back at her nursing 1 or 2 days per week when we return although she is primarily focused on her full time role, as keeper of the house and all things family. Despite the opportunity to expand into other areas it is clear to both of us that Bec loves being a mum and loves the opportunity to be at home and look after us all. We all realise that she has an absolute talent for this and our kids (and me) are certainly better for it. I imagine Bec will venture into some form of counselling or therapy work as the kids get older and she is loving her research into building strong and happy families and sharing her own personal growth experience with others is something I am sure she will put to good use in time. As a family we are very excited about returning home to start our vegetable patch. We have resisted up until this point due to our travels but having watched Kosta's odyssey on SBS last night we are all very pumped up about getting our vegie patch going again. For me professionally, I am committed to rebuilding my people development business having taken my eye off the ball for a while and feeling absolutely drained of energy it is time to crank things up again. I am also starting to build a vision for what I would like to achieve with my life and the work we have all done at Grace Agape in India is hopefully just a start. I want to make an impact on the safety, health and education of kids and I want this to be significant. In this day and age it is unthinkable that hundreds of millions of kids are deprived of an education, that kids are exposed to wars and violence and that thousands of children every day are dying from things like diarrhoea. How to make a difference that counts, that is the challenge. What this ultimately will look like I am not sure but our work in India has provided an example of what is possible with help from friends and family. I am likely to head to Africa for work in 2011 and I have a feeling that this might provide us with our next opportunity, stay tuned for more details.

Not long now until the Harry's arrive. The kids have been counting down the days and it will be great to have the crew all back together again. We plan to spend the first couple of nights in the camper which should be cosy and a lot of fun and then we have rented a house outside of Byron Bay. Signing out for now, Nick Bec, Indy, Maggie and Gus.



Monday, June 7, 2010

Pushing though the K’s

We have made it all the way through to Yeppoon a town just out of Rockhampton after two fairly long drives, the first from Cairns to Airlie Beach (9 hours or 600km) and then to Yeppoon (6 hours or 500km). On our last day in Cairns we visited Karunda and boarded the sky rail trip which took us over and through the rainforests to Cavonika lakes. It was an incredible experience and the kids had a great time. Bec had a few wobbles on a couple of the high points, particularly when the carriage would grind to a halt and we were floating what seemed like a mile above the rainforest floor. The waterfalls were incredible and considering it was the dry season I can only imagine what it must look like in the wet. Popsy took the car and met us at the bottom which ended up saving us quite a bit of money as the round trip ticket was quite expensive. We decided to head into Palm Cove for a bite of lunch which was only 20k's from our location and a nice drive. Palm Cove is one of those idyllic esplanades with all the up market hotels and day spas and very nice restaurants. We decided to head to Nunu's for lunch, one of mum's favourites and had a lovely meal. For a change Gus was quite well behaved at the lunch and we all had the opportunity to enjoy our meal and the food was very nice. After lunch and the inevitable icecream stroll along the esplanade we headed back to Sue and Erics for an evening of homemade Pizzas and a few hands of tropical scoppa. The next morning Indy and I got up at 5.30am to take Jen and Nick to the airport before returning to say our goodbyes to Sue and Eric, pack up and head for Townsville. Sue and Eric had a lovely home and they were very generous hosts who went to a great deal of trouble to ensure we all had a lovely stay. At their home we saw these amazing green tree frogs that had made their home in the eaves of their home, there was also a beautiful little bird that made this incredible nest hanging from the clothesline. It looked more like something that had washed up on the beach than a nest bit there was at least one little baby in the nest and the mother constantly coming back to feed it. Gussy also enjoyed the baby lizards running around the ceilings and all of the kids loving having the two beautiful golden retrievers Harry and Topie to play with. It was interesting reflecting on life back in a house and both Bec and I thought we would love getting out of the camper and into a real bed in a real house but strangely we missed Cammie and were excited about getting back on the road and back into our camper. That isn't to say we didn't enjoy being at Sue and Erics because we had a lovely time with them and ofcourse with Nanna and Poppa but this trip was about being on the road and having some freedom and we were all very excited about getting that sense of freedom and adventure back again. What we weren't excited about was the 1700km drive back to the sunny coast.

We decided just to head to Townsville, about 5 hours away and stay for at least one night. On the drive Bec is doing reno's on the road. Whilst we are away we are having our dilapidated kitchen replaced and our bathroom that we are unable to use because of dodgy tiling replaced. Fortunately we have an awesome housesitter and a very friendly and capable builder working together to get all of this done while we are away. Having slaved through two renovations in the past few years we certainly understand the value of getting this all done whilst we are away and being able to walk back into a renovated home when we get back. We also had the bank change over our credit cards while we are away and the first we found out about this was when our card was declined at the store. Fortunately Maree our housesitter sent the cards up to Cairns and we were right to go again. We had to however redo all of our direct debits that Bec had painstakingly set up before we left as all of this had also declined for the month. Anyway it all gave Bec something to do on the drive. The kids for the most part have been so good on the drives, it is not all that much for them but they have been excellent and aside from a couple of meltdowns towards the end of our long drives they have been great. The other activity Bec usually does whilst we are on the drive is to find us a place to stay. We decided on Rowes Bay caravan park which looked like a very nice spot in the brochure. As we pulled up we noticed the pool was being repaired and not available, the sites were dirt, not grass and the whole place had a very average feel about it. One drive through the park and we were back asking for a refund and off to Bowen. So after 6 hours we decided to push on another 90 minutes to Bowen, a beautiful seaside town south of Townsville. On the way there Bec rang ahead to check availability and to our surprise for the first time on this trip the park was booked out. The grey nomads from down south had arrived on mass and we had no other option than to push on yet further and head back to Airlie Beach to one of the kids favourite spots. We arrived just on dusk and arranged to have the same site we had last time which was nicely tucked away with an ensuite attached, very nice. It was out first night set up and after 9 hours driving we were mainly operating on auto pilot. Whilst it was a long drive we knew we had covered a lot of ground today and were well on our way to getting back down south. We decided to stay for three nights after our long drive and let the kids relax a little before our next drive. We spent a day heading in to the airlie beach lagoon, this massive lagoon style pool on the esplanade which was great fun for the kids. The rest of the time we spent around the pool, playing mini golf, on the jumping pillow and basically taking it very easy. It was also great to be back in cammie and we had the opportunity to watch our final two episodes of our series Sea Change. Having sat through 3 series and about 3o episodes this was quite an event and the crew were all disappointed to see the end of our much loved series. It was quite special to be watching this series as we were in the midst of our own mini sea change!

We really are quite excited about moving on from North Qld, whilst it was great to do and to show the kids it is not really our sort of place. Between the midgys, the crocodiles and stingers, the beaches you can't swim in, the lack of a couple of seasons in their calendar (only dry and wet), and the huge distances involved in travelling up here we were reminded of how lucky we are to live in a beautiful town like Mt Martha. When we left on this trip we were really not sure what the result would be. Would we want to live and work overseas, live in one of the towns we encountered on our travels, return to Middleton or head home to Mt Martha. Over the past couple of weeks things have slowly started to become clear for us and we are enjoying every minute of what life is providing for us currently as well as feeling like we have a plan for the future. As always with us it is a work in progress but it is very satisfying to see the plan start to come together. We are reminded constantly of just how fortunate we are to have found a place like Mt Martha to live and we are becoming more excited about heading home at the end of our trip. It has been an incredibly exciting 18 months for us but also a time when we have been very unsettled. Leaving Middleton was an incredibly difficult experience for us for lots of reasons and it is only now that we are starting to really start to look forward. For the first time in a long time I have curbed the need to constantly be travelling and spend most nights of the week at home. I am building new plans for my business and Bec and I are building plans for a business we want to develop together and we are excited about building our charity and continuing to make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged kids. We are committed to ensuring Indy and Mags get very settled in their schooling and are likely to enrol Maggie at Toorak from 2011 or 2012, a couple of years earlier than what we were planning, and we believe this will be a great opportunity for Mags. Bec is so excited about being able to nest, build what she calls an authentic home for all of us and make it our own. Our place in Mt Martha is certainly doesn't have the grandure of Middleton, or the beach views but is has a heap of character, is a really funky little place and makes an impact on anyone who visits. We also back on to a beautiful nature reserve, surrounded by amazing trees and greenery and only a short walk to one of the most beautiful little beaches in the bay. After all of the travel we have been lucky enough to do in the last few years we are now looking forward to getting home and putting down our roots and just settling, focussing on the kids schooling and activities and building our life in Mt Martha. It feels good to be arriving at a stage in our lives when we are now ready to look forward and plan for the future. Middleton was probably my favourite place on earth, I loved the beach, I loved our house, I loved the early days there when we lived in our little 2 bedroom place, it was also where I grew up as a kid with heaps of special memories and I enjoyed our life of being what was basically semi-retired. Middleton for a time allowed us to catch our breath and create some space and meet some wonderful people. Bec and I have never had so many friends as we had in Middleton. We needed that space in our lives for a period but we always worried about our work options and also what opportunities were available for our kids and knew that inevitably they would need to move away from home at sometime for either school, university of work. That is one of the considerations of where we are now, plenty of schooling options, unis and opportunities for work for both us and the kids. We miss our family and friends from Middleton but we are also not that far away from our friends and family in Adelaide and this allows us still to keep in close contact which will be even easier when we get home and settle into a bit more of a normal routine. Bec and I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason and for lots of reasons our life has taken a series of turns that has provided us with the motivation and opportunity to travel overseas, to have the courage to go on this amazing journey and to move and establish a base in Mt Martha. This trip was about refocussing, reenergising and finding a path forward to the future for all of us. We believe that we are finding that path now and that life has some wonderful opportunities in store for us when we return home. We are also excited about spending some time with our friends and family in Melbourne when we get home.

On our final morning in Airlie Beach we awoke and pondered about whether to stay on another evening or not. What was really on our mind is the stretch we aptly named the 'suicide stretch'. Basically from Airlie beach to Noosa, nothing but sugar cane and bitumen for about 1200kms. The thought of packing up was a little difficult to process, but after some breakfast and a coffee we were up and away. The beauty of the ensuite is the kids can have a shower together while we are packing up and also Bec and I get a quick shower in after packing up and heading off on the road clean and fresh. So off we go again, this time hoping to make it all the way to Yeppoon. On the way we stopped at a park in Mackay for lunch and a play at the park and pushed on to Yeppoon. For the second time on this trip we were playing with our petrol supplies and watching the distance to location and the kilometres of fuel left. There was only a few kilometres in it and we were down to our final 20kms of fuel when the service station appeared just short or Yeppoon on the horizon and we were able to stock up again and finally make it to our destination. Having just arrived last night the town looks very nice and after our homeschool this morning we plan to head in and have a look around. The park we are in is very nice and set on about 130 acres of fairly lush grassland and tropical trees. We went for a nice walk this morning, Indy is doing her project on Buddhism and Maggie is doing some spelling with Bec. Gus is driving his cars around the camp kitchen. Every day we say a little thankyou for how lucky we are to be on this trip and have this very special time together. Well time to get the kids out and head into town, that's all for now…..Nick, Bec and the crew.