As I write this final post, the red light of the Australian outback is intensifying. There’s a storm coming through Boggabri, and it will whip the elastic branches of the gum trees into a frenzy. The kookaburras will take a break from all the laughing they were doing this afternoon, and the hares will flee into their hidey-holes. The hail will push to the ground through the heat, and we’ll all count seconds to see how close the lightning is to the farm.
So, if this post has a trace of melancholy, you’ll know why.
Let’s start by getting real deep. The result of my self-psychoanalysis is: I’ve taken so long to write this last blog post because it signals the end of this grand adventure. No revision is required from my previous post; we are indeed still “totally cool with” the trip being over. That being said, there’s a kind of sad contentedness about it. I think we are afraid that we will just slide into normal life and forget that the trip ever happened. Getting messages from our friends – all of whom are still traveling, or who live overseas – is like getting a text from a character in a dream. Surprising, surreal, and lovely.
Our re-entry into Australia was something. It’s boring to hear flight details, but it is pertinent to say that I didn’t sleep on the flight, and Luke barely did. Our friend Jason picked us up at the airport, and took us to his house in a brick-and-bitumen southern Sydney suburb. Long story short, the day’s highlights included me sitting alone in the nicely set up guest bedroom, racked with sobs because Luke had gone to the grocery store to get me fresh salad ingredients whilst I slept. You see, ever since Russia I’ve been dreaming – not just night dreaming, but daydreaming – of the produce section of an Australian grocery store. How could he, how could he, betray me by visiting this wonderland without me. It was terrible. Despite his bewildered protests on the day, it took me days to learn that it’s actually quite a nice thing for one’s husband to prepare a fresh salad for his wife while she sleeps.
But seriously, our grocery stores are AMAZING, and it’s not even like I’ve been living in rural Africa for 2 1/2 years like my cousins Kim and Doug. I remember Kim’s reports of being bewildered by American grocery stores upon her return; for me, it’s a joyous adventure. I practically skip through the aisles and literally let out gasps of delight when seeing things like perfect Mexican asparagus and $2 jars of sugar-free peanut butter. Aisles and aisles of every vegetable a body can dream of. It’s… it’s… Disneyland.
Our approach to food is an unexpected life change arising from this trip. We always wondered how our dear Hindmarshes had the self control to cook their own food for almost every meal. Now we realize that a long overland trip (such as they do on bicycles) builds self-catering into a habit and a joy. I can’t handle too much restaurant food; I like to have more control over what I eat. We even sometimes find restaurant food to be not as good as what we would would cook, and our’s isn’t covered in sugar. Luke and I now enjoy cooking together and have learned the pragmatic art of chatting whilst cleaning up.
You might notice that there are more “I”s in this post, as opposed to “we”s. Another aspect of coming home is that we have more time with other people present, and, *gasp*, have even spent hours at a time apart from one another. We miss each other, but it’s probably healthy.
Speaking of Luke and I, we’ve been delighted to find that the trip has had an excellent influence on our relationship. We’ve always heard that these overland trips lead to either a rock-solid partnership or divorce. Whilst we were unsure of the outcome at certain points, we are pleased to announce that our final result seems to be the former. Of course, this stuff was not always easy. There were tears, and repetitive, deeply emotional, repetitive conversations as only we as a couple can do them. Sometimes they involved the nature of our relationship and our selves; sometimes they were deeply divisive quarrels over where to buy a blanket. In any case, souls were searched, feelings were had, lessons were learned, etc., etc.
Let’s go with the ol’ bulleted list to let you know the other things we are surprised by:
- We have been pleasantly surprised by how much people let us talk about our trip. We thought people would be rolling their eyes and telling us to shut up already after the 14th consecutive story about our bowel movements in such-a-such country. But, really, our loved ones have been very accommodating.
- We didn’t realize how many friends we would make on this trip. And not just acquaintances, but people we will love for as long as we remember them. We’ve got a long list of people in countries that we’ll fail to visit as often as we’d like. In addition, we spend a lot more time on our various messaging apps.
- I was surprised that I had a sense of judgey exoticism to lose. I thought, being an anthropology student, I saw all of humanity as one entity with beautiful, subtle differences. Well, turns out that I didn’t, because as we went, I felt more and more that people are all the same. Sure, some folks wear enormous colorful headdresses. Some people sacrifice goats of an afternoon, and some people work in offices. But really, we’re all the same. We all gotta make dinner, we have to help grandma stand up from the couch, we have to pee, we all like a hot beverage on a cold afternoon. And a lot of us work in offices.
- In a shocking twist, we are excited about working again. I feel ideologically refreshed. Luke is all reared up to start the next part of our lives, especially as he’s looking to change up the way he earns a living (working on his own property projects rather than working for clients). It helps that today isn’t really the end of the adventure. After all, we are moving to California, starting a life in a new city with new jobs, new setting, new worldview.
- Rather more unexpected than surprising is the way that we seem to remember our trip. It’s like a delightful psychosis. We’ll be sitting around, minding our own business, when suddenly, boom, we’re looking through the leftovers of a gypsy campsite in the middle of a sparse forest in Russia. Or perhaps it will be a sudden vivid memory of a warm breeze blowing across our faces as we look out at the ocean from an ancient fortification in southern Spain. Maybe it’s a shudder as we remember sitting in our car at 5am on the Mongolian steppe, waiting for the wind to die down as Matan and Iftaq snooze in their better constructed tent. I’m making it sound like these are tandem memories. That would be super cool and kind of like a super power. But we do mention it to each other when we remember random things, which generally leads into a cascade of reminiscing.
Despite all of this misleading debriefing, you haven’t quite heard the last of me. Stay tuned for a lil’ post updating you about our beloved Pajero and the work you’ve made possible for the good people over at Jhai Coffee House.
Back to normal posting real quick
I do actually have a small amount of Vietnam still left to report upon. You last saw us in Hue, in central Vietnam, very close to the DMZ. From there we took a very short flight north to Hanoi, where we spent a few days. We took a side jaunt to Ha Long Bay for a week, and then flew out of Hanoi back to Sydney.
We didn’t really like Hanoi because we were just over traveling, we think. Hanoi takes Ho Chi Minh’s traffic and raises it narrower streets and more tourists. So much traffic in tight places, and absolutely no sidewalks in the central old town. Even the legendary Bia Hoi – locally brewed, living beer sold
on the street for a pittance – is not what we expected. It’s just mass brewed now, by one of four huge companies, apparently. It is still cheap, but to get it you have to sit with all of the other tourists. These things absolutely would not have bothered us if we weren’t just ready to get home. Home, to where sidewalks are wide and flat, and vehicles actually recognize the existence of traffic lights. Home, where we don’t feel like cynical jerks when we don’t LOVE ALL THE THINGS 100%.
However, Luke did get to go into a rarely-touristed geology museum in Hanoi, which he had to himself. He found it very interesting because he is one of those hot nerds. Meanwhile, I sat in a nice cafe and nursed a pooping problem.
Ha Long Bay is as beautiful as they all say it is. We stayed on the lovely Cat Ba Island instead of basing ourselves out of Haiphong City, a good decision. Cat Ba is set up for mass tourism, but we were there over Tet (Vietnam’s biggest holiday), so it was quiet and peaceful. So peaceful that we sat in a beach resort for four of our days on the island, doing very little. I know I listened to some podcasts, and Luke reports that he “doesn’t know” what he did those four days. Otherwise, we just drank in the cool ocean breeze and ordered fake Pringles from room service.
Even with all the lounging, we did all the things there were to do on the island – a hike in the tiny national park, a scooter ride covering every road on the island, a walk up to the observatory. Of course, we also booked the classic Ha Long Bay boat tour for cheap tourists. This included a fun game of “dodge the drunk Brit” in kayaks, set in stunning would-be quiet waters bordered by towering karst mountains.
And yet again, fate gave us Annie. There she was, just walking down the street in front of our dinner table, the day after we left our beach resort. We spent a few days together, doing our hiking, swimming, kayaking, and scootering, and she made the end of our trip joyous.
We’ve already planned our next adventures. I have literally bought some of the guidebooks, just to stave off non-travel situational depression. We don’t know a lot, but we do know a few things. There will be a motor vehicle. The trip will be long, but maybe not quite as long. We will drive out of our own Californian garage/carport/driveway/tiny carspace/goat enclosure directly into our adventure. God willing, small human(s) will be in tow, or, more accurately, safely secured in the vehicle.
And now, as I reach the end of my final post, the storm has failed to materialize. The sky is back to a silky blue, the winds have calmed, and the animals and people have relaxed. Luke and I are sitting on the couch where, 8 years ago, Luke watched a silly TV special and decided he wanted to do an epic overland trip. The deed has been done, the dream is achieved, but it’s whet our appetite for more.