Saturday, January 10, 2009

Seven Mile Beach and Jervis Bay

Eric and I drove the two hours down the coast to Seven Mile Beach Friday afternoon after work. While we've come to expect less than a return to nature from our Australian camping experiences, the campsite above was still a little disappointing. Little did we know that the ambience would be enhanced after dark by the psychotic lady in the cabin across the road parking her car in our "campsite," leaving her sun-like porch light on all night, and shrilly screaming about what a loser her husband was until 3 am. At daylight, Eric and I wearily took down the tent and vowed never to return, despite the fact that we had already paid $85 to utilise this patch of grass next to the road for two nights.

We made an attempt at surfing in what were some of the largest waves we've been out in before the little energy we'd stored in the three hours of sleep we'd gotten ran out. We decided to drive a little further down the coast to Jervis Bay, find a nice park, and pass out. Ideally, we hoped we'd find a beach that didn't look too patrolled where we could ignore the "No Camping" signs and throw up our tent after dark that evening.

We paid our $10 to get into the Jervis Bay National Park and spent the afternoon taking little dirt roads to isolated beaches. On one little trail, Eric spotted an echidna, a cousin of the platypus that is the only other mammal to lay eggs. Imagine a porcupine with a platypus beak ( He was totally oblivious to us as he rustled under the leaves with his little beak looking for something tasty to eat.

It was all very lovely, but my eyes were getting bleary from sleep deprivation by the time we reached an aboriginal village at the end of one road in the park. While the US government pulled a bait and switch, relocating the Native Americans to land that couldn't sustain much more than a family of lizards, the aboriginees have been given some of the land where they actually lived for thousands of years. We set up our tent in a big tree-covered field overlooking the ocean, and I vowed never to leave. However, we noticed as the afternoon waned that all of the non-aboriginees were packing up their gear and heading home, and the aboriginees themselves were giving us some funny looks.

I was too afraid to ask whether we could stay because I was horrified to think we would have to leave this fantasy place, but fortunately Eric was braver. He went over to a family's campsite and asked the man whether people were allowed to stay here. The man told him that only people from the aboriginal village, like his wife, were allowed to stay overnight. Eric and I started to pack our things to go when his wife ran over and told us that it was very respectful to have asked, and they'd be happy if we stayed as their guests. I was so relieved not to have to leave and scavenge for another place to stay that I did a little happy dance.

Well rested, we began to explore the area in the few hours before dark. There was a trail through the woods that lead down to a large beach of dead coral where we watched crabs and other mysterious sea creatures scurry about as the tide came in. A man who was fishing with his daughter called us over to see a giant ray that was sculling along the rocky shore looking for abandoned bait. He was gliding along so gracefully, but the little girl kind of spoiled it by musing that perhaps this was the ray who killed Steve Irwin. Later, this little girl and I were discussing a dead kangaroo a little ways up the beach when she hypothesised that the poor roo had also met his fate at the "hands" of the ray. I was glad we were staying up on top of a cliff as there was clearly a killer ray on the loose!

Our explorations complete, Eric and I spent the evening sipping beer and reading our books, watching the sun set over the ocean. The weather was fine, so we didn't even put on the rain fly. It's probably the happiest I've been since we've come to Australia. Given how the day began, it was certainly a surprise.

In the morning, we went to thank the lady for allowing us to stay. We chatted for a while, and I was struck by the fact that we share a lot of personal information with a lot of people before ever sharing our names. Is this because a) our names, as identifying information, are really precious and we tend to guard them, b) we think it sounds presumptuous to share our names, like we're starting a lifelong friendship, or c) we're just so caught up with trying to make conversation with strangers that we forget?

Anyway, we tried battling the surf again, but I was bested by the waves. When the surf is small, as long as you can catch a wave, it's pretty easy to manipulate. When the surf is big, there's a pretty good chance the waves are going to catch you against your will and show you who's boss. I guess some days are just better than others...and this is why people who have been surfing for years still don't consider themselves "good."

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