Last week all Indonesian twelfth graders took their national exams. This meant that school was cancelled for all high school grades, so naturally it also meant that lots of Peace Corps volunteers went on vacation. Will and I took this chance to head more “down under” than we already are and visit the land of kangaroos, boomerangs, cheese and bacon for “brekky.” Australia!
This would be our first time leaving Indonesia in a year, which is something that didn’t really occur to us until we were about to land in Malaysia for our layover. Eight hours later, we made it to Sydney where we met my aunt and uncle at the airport who just happened to be on vacation in Australia at the same time! They were generous enough to put us up at the Hilton with them for the one night we overlapped in Sydney.
Arriving at the five star Hilton, our first hotel experience out of Indonesia, was something that I can only compare to Katniss and Peta’s first trip to the Capital City from their District in the first book of the Hunger Games series. We were whisked by taxi to this fancy hotel, taken to a hotel room with multiple gadgets such as a button to open and close the blinds. We took the best shower we’d had in a year with hot water and good pressure and fancy products.* We put on fluffy white robes and settled into our down comforter to watch international television (which we would monitor on and off the entire week with the rest of the United States) and browse the Internet at lighting speeds. We had access to the Executive Lounge with free drinks and snacks all day. I used a blow dryer for the first time in a year and emerged from the room ready for sight seeing looking like my old self. Unlike Katniss and Peta, thank goodness there was no fighting to the death planned for us.
We spent the day sightseeing with Uncle Rob and Aunt Carol—managing to do as much as we could in one day in Sydney. We ate some amazing food. Ah-mazing. We took pictures—nobody wanted pictures of us (unless we were related to them). We got in some good bonding time with my aunt and uncle and we slept really well after an incredible dinner.
The next day (continuing the Hunger Games comparison) we went to the “Glass Brunch” at the Hilton, which was a gianormous buffet of anything you could think of. I ordered a flat white (like a latte) and proceeded to consume bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, toast, smoked salmon and cream cheese, fruit, yogurt and muesli, and rounded it out with some shots of celery and carrot juice. Will, not having adapted back to the West yet, felt that he wasn’t full until he got some fried rice.
That afternoon we hugged Rob and Carol goodbye and took a bus from our hotel to pick up our rental car. We hopped in the car and Will quickly learned to drive on the left side of the road (after riding a bike on the left side for the last year). We took our time over the next four days stopping in towns and seeing sites along the way to Melbourne. We had to turn the heat on everywhere we stopped. It was freezing! It was great!
The coast and interior from Sydney to Melbourne is breathtakingly beautiful. We saw a blow hole in Kiama, some of the whitest sand in the world at Jervis Bay, and beautiful coastlines and kangaroos (!) in Pambula. We saw some incredible beaches that were too cold to swim in (but we have beaches in Indonesia, so that’s okay) and lovely cows grazing on farms. Along the way we had ice cream, cheese, wine, beer, cheeseburgers, fish and chips, and fudge. The places we stayed were small sleepy towns so those nights we had no choice but to grab dinner and call it an early night. One night we got take-out pizza, a bottle of Australian Shiraz, and took it back to our apartment and watched British brides trash-talk each other’s weddings on TV. Who would have thought that would have felt like such a treat!?
After four days on the road we made it to Melbourne where we would stay for two nights. Melbourne has a reputation for being a bit more hip than Sydney and we enjoyed our time there as well. We stayed close to a free tourist street car which was fantastic as we were able to hop on and off throughout the city. While in Melbourne we visited the Queen Victoria Market, the Melbourne Museum and an art museum. We ate Thai food one night downtown and incredible Italian food at a cool restaurant in a hipster neighborhood the other night.
As predicted, our time in Australia went by too fast. We were both dreading heading back to site so quickly and didn’t feel ready to leave. Australia felt magical to us—I mean we could drink water right out of the sink! Natural beauty products (the one thing I can’t find here) were everywhere! It was such a progressive place in so many ways. Oh, how we used to take these things for granted.
We pouted the entire way back. But then as we stepped off the plane in Surabaya, we seemed to slip right back into Indonesia like an old pair of jeans. Once again we saw the appeal of Surabaya, a place where we’ve had so many good times with friends. We felt at home speaking bahasa Indonesia with our taxi driver. We knew where we were. We were home again—but with a new excitement for heading back to our American home in a little over a year.
*This by no means is a commentary on the cleanliness of Indonesians. They seem to be much cleaner, fashionable and put together than your average Peace Corps Volunteer—I’m not sure what’s wrong with us…