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Kangaroos, Colds and Computers

After a day out drinking rum. . . um. . . touring the rum distillery, Thelma and I return to Rosie’s house just outside of Hervey Bay. Throughout the day, my allergies, which have been bad on this side of the world due to different plant-life than I’m used to, have steadily worsened. My nose is stuffed and I’m feeling lethargic. While the tiredness could be due to the mid-afternoon rum break, as well as travel catching up with me, I’m pretty sure I have the answer. Ms. “I don’t think I’m contagious any more” was so incredibly wrong. Yup, she breathed her germy-germs over my shoulder while she was busy looking at my iPad and they flew right up my nose. I’m not sure which is worse; the stuffy head, runny-nose and hacking cough I develop throughout the night, or the anger I feel towards this woman. While I normally assume someone doesn’t actually want to pass on their germs, due to our interaction (read it here), I’m not so sure.
When we arrive back at the house, I give my computer a disgusted look and decide to, once again, try removing the battery. Today I’d remembered that, a few months after I’d first bought it, it wouldn’t turn on. I took the battery out and put it back in, pushed the power key countless times, and plugged it into various outlets, to no avail. Back then, I called the place where I’d purchased it and told them what was happening in hopes that it happens often and is easily fixed. Though it was under warranty, I was told that, unless I paid $150, they would need to keep it for two-weeks. This all happened in an airport so, I did what any sane person would do, I went to the bar. While sucking up my Bloody Mary (why do I only crave these when flying?) I mentioned my computer frustration to the bartender who told me to remove the battery and (if I remember correctly) wave it around in the air in a figure-eight motion. Really? First, I explained that, even while plugged in, the computer didn’t work, so the battery would have nothing to do with it and, secondly, well, really? Wave it like a magic wand?
I was desperate and, as I’d just disembarked the Disney cruise ship I’d been working on, well, I removed the battery, said the magic words, “Bibbidy, Bobbidy, Boo!” while waving around the battery and placed it back into its spot. I pushed the power button and, lo-and-behold, my computer came to life. The bartender received a two hundred-percent tip as she doubled as my IT department.
Today, I try this magical method and, yup, you guessed it, my computer came to life. I have no idea of the actual computer scientific reason, except that it really is magic. With my computer screen lit, I can see that my battery charging seems to be going on and off. There seems to be a problem with the power connection and, as the charger connection to the computer became loose last month, I have a feeling I still need a repairman. Still, I’m thrilled to know approximately where the problem lies.
After a fabulous seafood dinner (thanks Rosie!), a glass of wine, and another of fine single malt scotch (I may have been too stressed for scotch yesterday, but I’m not too sick for it tonight) I head off to bed feeling pitiful.
GingerI awake in the morning not feeling much better and, after a cup of coffee and a goodbye to Rosie, Thelma and I are back on the road. Our first stop is back at Retro Espresso for a cup of coffee and a peek at the Hippie Shop across the road. Next, we head over to the Ginger Factory where they manufacture redheads . . . wait, no, they make ginger. Well, actually, god makes ginger, but they make most things that come from ginger. Unfortunately, the next factory tour doesn’t depart for forty-five minutes, and the Super Bee tour, which shows the honey-making process, is done for the day (not interested anyway). This leaves us with the other options of taking the Ginger Train around the gardens, or the Overboard boat tour which will have us chasing after the Gingerbread Man. I have no desire to be the Gingerbread Man’s stalker so and the train isn’t very appealing so we sit and have a ginger tea and a scone.
Ginger Bread ManWe drive a bit more before stopping for a quick look at Matilda, the eighteen-meter tall Kangaroo, who made her first appearance at the 1982 Commonwealth Games and now stands watch behind a gas station.
KangarooFollowing our photo opportunity, we’re back on the road and headed back towards Thelma’s house in Brisbane. We make a stop at a computer store where the man tells me he’ll have to send my computer out, and it could take a week to repair. He insists that my power cord is not the correct one for my computer while I repeatedly tell him that it came with the computer when I bought it new four-years ago. Besides that, it’s a Sony, as is my computer, and it is, in fact, the correct cord for my computer. I thank him and we head over to another computer repair place which Thelma knows. These guys seem to know a bit more and, after a moment of saying that this doesn’t look like the correct cord, the owner of the place wanders over and realizes that there’s an attachment to the motherboard which seems to have come unattached and disappeared. They’re convinced they can get the part. The question becomes how long it will take to get, as they can repair it within about an hour after receiving the part.
I get a call the following morning saying the computer repair shop can get the part the next day so, there’s hope that I’ll be renting a camper van the day after tomorrow. I think I’ll head north as, well, the further north I go, the warmer it becomes. Brisbane is fine but, in a camper van, any further south might be a bit chilly and I’m over the cold (both in my nose and in the air).
Next up – A working computer (hopefully) and a do-over in a camper van.

A Big Drink

After much fussing about, searching for CD’s (never to be found), I teach Janette about placing your iPod in a cup-holder for instant speakers the MacGyver way. We decide which one of us will be Thelma (Janette) and which is Louise (me, as I’m the redhead), and get on the road. Our first stop is a kitschy pub which used to be named the Ettamogah, after a famous Aussie cartoon but, due to a buy-out and, as the waitress puts it, “a whole story behind it” is currently named the Pub. It’s a play on the typical Dinkum Aussie which is your Crocodile Dundee/Throw another shrimp on the barbie, stereotypical, caricature Australian. We sit and enjoy a nice lunch outside on this beautiful day (I’m finally warm!). 
We get back on the road where, after just fifteen-minutes or so, we find ourselves at the Big Pineapple. It’s on the edge of some pineapple fields and, as a bonus, you can climb up to the top.  On the way, there’s a whole display of pineapple history and statistics on pineapple production. We climb the two somewhat circular staircases to the top (a much easier climb than what I did all those months ago with the Tümerin von Münster in what is still one of the best travel experiences of my life. Read No Fires, No Foes.) Big PineappleAfter a quick lookout and a short climb down, we go hunting for the Big Cow but she seems to have escaped the pasture, so we head out to go see Matilda, the Big Kangaroo. After a bit of a drive, it looks as if Matilda has hopped away as we don’t find her either. We do, however, find a great little coffee shop in Tiaro called Retro Espresso. It’s been a long day so far and I need some caffeine and Vince, the owner, is just the man I need. While Thelma orders a half-shot latte (I mean, why even bother?) I order a double-shot one and ask for her extra 1/2 shot. Besides coffee, Retro Espresso has some heavenly looking (and I’m sure tasting) gooey treats as well as some kitschy (second-time I’ve used the word here but it’s so fitting) metal signs, some with Route 66 themes. This is a great stop when driving through the Hinterlands. (An area that’s not quite inland and not quite the coast – the Hinterlands.)
Australia - Big Ned KellyWe continue on, with a quick stop at the Big Ned Kelly and drive past sunset (remember, it’s still winter here so the sun sets early) until we arrive in Riverheads, the town where Rosie (Thelma’s old school friend) lives. We’re staying with Rosie for two-nights which gives the old friends a chance to catch up and puts us in close proximity (about 120 km) to Bundaberg, the location of The Big Rum Bottle. After being introduced to Rosie, her daughter Tash, and their dog Honey, we sit down for a glass of wine. I drag out my computer as I want to get some writing and publishing done before I absorb more wine (and, perhaps, some of the scotch we stopped and bought). While I want to work, apparently my computer has other ideas and chooses not to work. There are no lights and it won’t even turn on. I try all night to no avail. Rosie lends me a computer (luckily I’ve save most essential things to a zip drive I purchased after the great computer crash in March in Kuala Lumpur) which allows me to get work done but does little to alleviate my stress. This morning I was irritated that I couldn’t find my $5 sunglasses. I’ve now forgotten about that. Perspective.
We enjoy a nice dinner and some wine before heading to bed. The scotch I bought remains unopened. (Who knew you could be too stressed to drink scotch?) After some stress induced insomnia I wake up and glance at my computer while praying to literally “see the light.” Apparently, this is only a philosophical answer as the computer and all of its power lights remain dark. After a coffee (Thelma is a bubbly person, even in the morning. Louise, well, she needs her coffee) we get ready and head over to Bundaberg to see The Big Rum Bottle.
Bundaberg is about a ninety-minute drive from Riverheads (right near Hervey Bay) and, on the way, we pass the small town of Childers. It’s a cute town with pubs and shops lining the streets and signs directing people to the wineries in the area. I make note as I think I might want to return here for a visit.
We continue our pilgrimage to Bundaberg along the ISIS Highway. Yup, it’s an unfortunate name for a highway these days. Perhaps they should think about renaming it. This area is all about sugar cane and fields are everywhere. At about 12:30, we pull up to our Mecca for the day – The Big Rum Bottle. And, even better, the Big Rum Bottle is strategically placed directly in front of the Bundaberg Rum Distillery. I’m stressed-out from my broken computer and standing in a rum distillery; this could be dangerous.
Rum Bottle
After taking the token photos standing with The Big Rum Bottle, we head inside where there’s a museum and tours. We sign up for the 1:00 tour, which a sign out front tells us, “Grown men have been known to walk away from the BDC Distillery Experience shedding tears of enlightenment” (a bit dramatic perhaps). We stroll through the museum for a bit, learning about how the distillery came to be as well as the great fires of 1907 and 1933.  We stop to read a sign which tells us, “The Bundaberg Distilling Company was born in 1888, when a band of ingenious sugar millers turned a horrendous molasses surplus into a fine rum.” Sort of like making wine from water.
Just after 1:00, Angus, one of our guides walks through the museum collecting us and leading us into a small theatre where he gives us a brief description of what we’ll be seeing as well as introducing us to our other guide, Adam. We’re told that when we walk outside, we’ll be asked to place all battery-powered devices onto shelves which will be locked up for safekeeping. This includes all cell phones, watches and electric car-lock openers. Apparently, the fires scared the bejesus out of them and, due to the alcohol content in the air, one spark from a malfunctioning battery could cause the whole place to go up in a ball of flames. I fully expect to get drunk simply from breathing.
We head into the factory and are led through various areas, including a huge warehouse with a molasses lake covering the entire floor. The scent is strong and sweet. We continue on into a barrel room, as well as areas to see the metal vats which make the yeast used in the distilling process.
BarFinally, we end up in a room where Adam describes each of the many bottles of rum in front of us and the various tastes and development processes of each. We’re then invited into the bar (finally!) where we get to taste two glasses of our choice from the many different types of rum offered. While my first drink of their black label is a fine rum, my second choice, their chocolate one mixed with cream sends me over the moon. Being the designated driver, Thelma only has a half-shot and, by the time we leave, I’m a little more liquored-up and less stressed than when we entered.
We head off, make a quick stop at the Big Barrel, and drive on in search of the Cordalba Pub, which Rosie has told us is a nice, historic place. After a longer than expected ride and some amount of Kettle on Floorsearching, we finally pull up in front of the 122 year-old building. It’s just after 4:00 and we’re the only ones here. After Anthony, the bartender, cook, and everything else, takes our orders we head onto the back porch to sit in the waning sun overlooking the sugarcane fields. We ask if they make coffee and he says you can serve yourself. He shows us to a dining area where, on a table are bottles filled with Nescafe instant coffee, tea bags, sugar and other paraphernalia. He bends down and turns on the kettle which is sitting on the floor. Yup, it’s an interesting place. After thirty-minutes-or-so, Thelma’s pizza and my burger arrive and we each scarf down half, knowing that Rosie has gone shopping and plans to cook us a nice salmon dinner. 
Back on the road, we hunt for a bottle shop (liquor store) as Rosie’s asked us to pick-up a bottle of white wine for the salmon. Thelma’s bottle shop locating abilities are amazing and she can spot one as quickly as a birdwatcher spots a red-bellied, white crested, blackbird hiding in the trees. Bottle of wine in hand, we finally arrive in Riverheads at 7:15pm.
Tomorrow – Back to Brisbane

Virgin Germs

And we’re off! It’s time for Brisbane and, after a less early morning than some flights (yet too early for me), I grab an Uber and head off to the airport. This is only my second Uber ride – the first being last week, from one AirBnB to another – and, while I’m not positive the driver took the most direct route, it goes smoothly.

I arrive at the airport slightly nervous about the weight of my luggage (when am I not?). I’ve, once again, packed strategically. Having learned that, in Australia, you can fly with an unlimited amount of liquid in your carry-on bag, I pack my toiletries in the carry-on and stuff the checked one full of clothes and shoes. The checked bag weight limit is 23kg (50 pounds) and, prior to leaving for the airport, I used my handy luggage scale (hang the bag on the hook and lift) which showed mine was a close, but not over, 22.70kgs. Knowing I’m good there, my only concern is my carry-on. Without anything in it, my carry-one weighs 4kgs. The weight limit is 7kgs (15 pounds). As I’ve put my toiletries in my carry-on, well, liquids weigh a lot. (That’s what prevents you from bringing a keg of beer on board.) I could have paid AUD$40 (about US$25) when I checked in online but decided to gamble. If they weigh the carry-on and I must check it, well, so be it. If not, I just saved a bit of cash which, if this were Asia, could buy a week of food or possibly a night in a hotel room.
I make pleasant talk with the Virgin Airlines desk agent (not easy, as I haven’t had any coffee). Still, she’s very nice and clues me in on her favorite airport coffee shop. I drop my bag on the conveyor belt/scale and, when 22.70 pops up, she congratulates me on a fine packing job. After issuing a paper boarding pass (I have an electronic one and would have been happy to save the paper) she sends me on my way. In the past, at this point, I would have breathed a sigh of relief; but I know better. In Auckland, they threw a surprise scale in at security, so I won’t be at ease until I’m on that plane.
After stopping for a quick cup of Joe (does anyone still use that phrase?), I head over to gate 41 to wait. Following a few minutes of pleasant conversation with a couple from North Carolina, the flight is called and I board my fairly small plane wondering if my bag will fit inside the overhead. I seamlessly lift my bag and place it in the overhead without a struggle and take my seat. The woman assigned the seat directly next to me also sits. After a few minutes of listening to her cough like a chain-smoker at a campfire in Delhi, India pollution, she blurts out, “I don’t think I’m contagious anymore.” Fabulous! She drags out her tissue and continues to cough, while I try to convince myself it’s mind over matter. “I will not get sick, I will not get sick.” (I’ll let you know in a few days whether this worked.)
The flight is short – only an hour – which leaves me no time to sleep. Still, they have a cool onboard entertainment system which I’ve never seen before. You download the Virgin Australia Entertainment app. on your own electronic device ahead of time and, when you board the plane, just open it up, connect to the Virgin Australia network, and watch movies, TV shows and more. Pretty cool. I choose to write and read.
The lady next to me also chooses to read? Unfortunately, what she chooses to read is on my iPad.
“Do you always write about the people who sit next to you on planes?” she asks.
“Um, yeh, pretty much.” I reply.
“Well, I think that’s terribly rude. I was telling you about my cough out of courtesy and to put you at ease. I didn’t expect to be insulted.”
“I appreciate that. And I also told you my cough was due to allergies to put you at ease. And I don’t think I’m insulting you. We’ve all been there.”
She goes on to tell me how she reads a lot (apparently her reading is mostly what other people have on their screens) and that she was an English teacher and thinks my writing is “crap.” I tell her she’s very entitled to her opinion (heck, she can even write that if she wants) and ask why she would be reading what was on my screen anyway. She becomes just a bit flustered and says something about looking out the window and seeing “cough” on the screen. She soon collects her things, stands up and moves to another seat. While some people swear by Vitamin C in order to avoid getting sick, perhaps you just need to write about the sick person in order to avoid it. In the end, I write what I write. It’s never with malicious intent; it’s simply my experience of traveling around the world without a plan. I hope she feels better soon. Colds make me crabby too.
BearJust over an hour later, I arrive in Brisbane. I immediately stop in the first restroom to wash may hands. I head down to the baggage claim, collect my bag, and turn to see a life-sized bear cut-out (well, an actual bear is probably larger, but this is at least my height) with two life-sized real people next to it. The bear is holding a “Drop Me Here!” sign with a nice rendering of my logo. These are Farmer Jane’s parents (you remember her from Farmer Jane and Kongy). We’ll call them Mark and Janette for now but I might find them a fun nickname later. We’ve never met but them, and their bear friend have made an impression. We climb into the car and drive over to their house where I meet Yuki, their dog, and we have tea (myself, Mark and Janette; Yuki doesn’t much care for tea).
While I travel without a plan, Janette has a bit of a plan. After I repack my bags to throw a couple of days clothes into my carry-on bag without worrying about a weight restriction, Janette and I head off in her convertible for a short road-trip to Hervey Bay to stay with her friend Rosemary for a couple of nights. On the way we’ll be passing some of “the Biggies” which did not have the honor of winning as the destination but who have expressed that they’re simply honored just to be nominated (actually, these weren’t even nominated but don’t let them know). And, as Hervey Bay is very close to Bundaberg, well, it looks like I’ll have company visiting the Rum Bottle (I hate to drink alone).
Tomorrow – on the open road.

Yo-Ho-Ho and a Bottle of Rum

Rum BottleI’ve written before about my ritual for when the vote comes in. I drink a glass of a good single malt whiskey to toast my next location and new adventure. No scotch whisky for me today. Today’s celebratory drink is rum, which seems a bit more appropriate. While you could have chosen the Big Bottle of Wine, there’s no guarantee it would have been a bottle of red, my wine preference, and I’d also need to visit the Big Cheese as, well, it’s nice to have cheese with your wine. That all might lead me to the Big Poo which, well, I hear that attraction is a big pile of crap. Hmmm, I hear it stinks? (Okay, I’ll stop.) Anyway, I’ll be heading to the Big Bottle of Rum pretty quickly.
I’ve been here in Sydney for the past ten-days awaiting your decision. As the Big Bottle of Rum is in Bundaberg, Queensland Australia, I’ll get close by flying to Brisbane. It’s really easy to get there as there are buses, trains and flights. Still, Australia, like the U.S., is a big country and the bus and train each take fourteen-hours or more. The many flights are fairly inexpensive costing about $100 for a one-way ticket. As there are so many, it’s easy to get a reservation (especially at this time of year) so I’ve just booked a flight from Sydney to Brisbane for tomorrow (no time like the present).
A fun coincidence is that Farmer Jane’s parents live there (remember Farmer Jane from the Lord Howe Island trip?) so I’ll stay with them for a few nights before heading out to find the big bottle of hooch. I’m thinking of trying a do-over with the camper van. While it didn’t go so well with My Man Friday, Camper van Beethoven and I got along swimmingly so, perhaps, three’s a crowd and I just need to spend some quality time with my man, the van. Yup, an Australian road-trip seems to be calling me.
You, my Virtual Travel Buddies, and I will check out Brisbane and the Bundaberg, the location of the Big Bottle of Rum and, since we’ll have wheels, we’ll see what else there is to see (and try not to make road-kill out of a kangaroo). As always, I’ll work hard to find a great organization or project with which to volunteer and let you know about my experience here and more about the organization on www.Rebel-With-A-Cause.org.
Don’t forget to click that “Follow Here” button on the right to keep up (no junk mail, I promise) and maybe “like” DMA on Facebook, “follow” on Twitter, “add to circles” on Google+, and do whatever you do on Instagram and Tumblr. I’ve got the can of Coke; you bring the pineapple juice and let’s go find some rum!