Sunday, June 14, 2009
Meze Gebel and The Great Ocean Road
After a twelve hour train ride from Sydney, I arrived in Melbourne around seven that evening. Sandy was waiting for me with a smile. At first she did not recognize me, the last time we had seen each other, I was typically bare chested with swim trunks. Now, I was wearing significantly more clothing.
It was a two-hour drive from Melbourne to her friend's place in Southern Victoria. On and on we went into the country. It soon became evident that we'd be staying in the middle of nowhere. As we turned onto a secluded wooded road, I fought images of Ivan Milat; how well did I know this Sandy anyway? My lodging, "Meze Gebel" or Mt. Goat, was a small wooded farm, twenty minutes from Cobden.
It was the home of Paty Marshall-Stace, a semi-well known poet/children's author from Sacramento, California, though she's lived in Australia for nearly 40 years. It took only minutes for me to have a stack of books in my hand to read. The three of us stayed up late chatting. It was such a welcoming place; I felt at home immediately.
It wasn't hard to love the place. The grounds had two self-built houses, surrounded by copious gardens. The smaller of the two was basically a big shed built around an old RV camper ("The Magic Caravan!"). Both homes are wood heated, but had running water and power. Ducks and chickens roamed the twisting maze-like footpaths. I was not able to explore the whole grounds during my ten day stay.
The nearby countryside was thoroughly explored. Sandy resided in this area for many years, but had not been back for a visit in nearly ten. She still knew where to find all the sights. She attempted to never take the same road twice in our treks across Victoria and she nearly succeeded. Everyday, we headed to a new place, occasionally visiting Sandy's Bohemian friends, forest dwellers living self built houses, many without electricity, all quite charming. They were all delightful people and quite interesting. Pretty much all of them were either semi-well known artist or published writers. The most interesting of the people I met was Ian, who was more a friend of a friend, than an actual friend of Sandy's. He'd moved into the woods of Tasmania during the Vietnam war and had only recently emerged into society. He was fascinated and loved current television. "There are some really good things going on with TV these days; it reminds me of the seventies!" He loved hip-hop, "I just love the attitude of these people doing hip-hop." He threw in some jive-type hand flailing when he said hip-hop, "It reminds me a lot of the seventies!" He was also completely nuts; many of the things he said didn't make much sense, but I nodded politely.
We also visited an online fly-fishing buddy of my dad's. Long ago, Chris (the friend) had sent me an email, inviting me to visit if I was ever in Victoria. I thanked him for the invite, but at the time I had no intention of visiting that area of the country. Since I did in fact make it his neck of the woods, I called him up and enjoyed a coffee with him and his wife. He invited me along on various fishing excursions in the later months, but I had to decline since I was leaving by then. He wants to head to the states sometime, so I invited him to come fishing in Minnesota.
Sandy proved a great guide. Being an intelligent outdoorsy type for all of her 50 years of life, Sandy was a wealth of knowledge about all the plants, animals, and countryside. Since she lived here long ago, she could recognize all the changes and raping of the beautiful land. Endless expanses of natural forest and bushland are being burned and replaced by tree plantations, a sick pseudo-nature that is quite painful to see. Tourism has taken over much of the coast. Sandy was sad to see many of the quaint, lovely seaside villages become walls of resorts and holiday apartments along the shore. Some of Sandy's secret spots that were to be so exclusive were not so secret anymore. One of her favorite roads, Turton's Track (which she liked to call Gurton's track after her last name), an old logging road through the forests of the Otway Ranges, had been widened, resurfaced, and renamed Turton Tourist Track. It was still a lovely drive.
The Great Ocean Road was incredible. Even though it stretches for only 100km, the coast and surrounding areas were quite varied. Much of this is he result of the Otway Ranges going right through the center. The western end featured some of Australia's most famous surf beaches. It soon becomes a hillside drive, overlooking the craggy coast below. Next is Cape Otway, which the Great Ocean Road actually detours around. We still explored the dense forests of the cape. We even snuck into the lighthouse by way of secret wallaby trail, $11 seemed a bit steep. Don't tell the Australian Parks Service.
The road then heads through the most famous part of the drive, the scenic Port Campbell National Park, home of the Twelve Apostles (eight still remain). The rock formations of this stretch of coast are amazing. Mostly limestone, they were weathered by thousands of years of waves and winds from Antarctica, proving that nature is the world's greatest sculptor. It features towers, arches, caves, cliffs, and other wonders. This is a can't miss part of Australia! The coast changes again to be a little (only a little) less dramatic before ending in Warnalbool.
We didn't do the road in any kind of linear fashion. On day one, we only saw two miles of the coast, which isn't too bad considering there is a worthwhile and different lookout every five feet. We took our time and didn't really push ourselves too hard.
In the end, it was the company that proved the most spectacular part of the trip. Sandy and Paty are both lovely people with whom I could easily share hours of endless conversation, though Paty is a "storyteller", so I did more listening than anything. At various points, one of her random sons would show up. Out of her four kids, three are professional musicians. The oldest, C.W. Stoneking, is one of Australia's finest bluesmen. It was quite inspiring to be surrounded by artists all the time. I didn't want to leave; it was so relaxing to just kick back in the country, sleeping in the cool, crisp, clean air under a 20 pound pile of blankets. Alas, I had already stayed there nearly a week longer than planned and had to leave. Paty and Sandy invited me back (Paty incessantly was trying to convince me to move to Australia.) if I'm ever in the country again. They also hooked me up with some addresses around Australia, New Zealand, and the US of their random friends. It was a sad exodus, but I was getting quite use to this over the last few weeks.