My mom has had this friend at work for decades. We call her Miss Bea. Miss Bea has her own cat rescue and raises goats; she keeps chickens and sells their eggs at work. She gave me both of my cats and Gina and I have always loved her. When I went into the lab two weeks before leaving on this trip, I ran into Miss Bea and told her about our travel plans. Reactions to this had been 100% positive, until I paused for breath and realized she was staring at me, open mouthed, in abject horror.
"Oh Chloe, no."
She shot my mother a look over my shoulder.
"You can't let them go!"
We went. Of course. And now I am going to jinx it by saying we've been okay so far. I made it through Peru with a scar the size and shape of a baby carrot and what is left of my colon but I made it through. We nearly froze to death (and I mean that quite literally and with gravity) in Chile but we warmed back up. There was a very real possibility of being mugged in Argentina but we clutched our bags and flew out just fine. But Down Under deals a different hand of cards. It's a wonderful country and I love it here, but just as soon as you get distracted, something yanks you back and makes you remember that the Outback wants you dead.
See that? That's at Jane's house. As in, where we are staying. And if that internet router is about the size of a laptop then that Huntsman spider is about the size of my hand.
Jane's mom's response was, "oh well they are not poisonous."
Not poisonous? Not poisonous??? Look at it!!!!! IT HAS FUR.
If a spider is big enough to have fur then it doesn't matter if it is poisonous because I will scream, shit my pants and die, in that order. And I don't even need to ask Ginaa to know that she would do the same.
The other day we were cleaning the kitchen and Gina was wiping down the tops of the cabinets and what did she find but the mangled carcass of a Huntsman, descendant of Aragog, grotesque in death and hideous to behold. Yes it was dead because if it wasn't, we both would have gone through steps 1-3 and not been here to write this post. Jane said she found one on the ceiling of her car once which now means I must do a full scan of all vehicles, showers, beds, and rooms that I enter. I scan doorways before I go through them I shake out all articles of clothing before I put them on. Because it's not just the spiders. (It's not just the Huntsman either- you could have knitted a friggin blanket from the cobwebs that we swept off of all the windows in the house, and Jane just did the windows two months ago. They're taking over I tell you. And she found a Funnel Web spider in the dog dish two years ago. A FUNNEL WEB. Yes those are poisonous. And the pope likes to pray.) There is also a snake several meters long under the shed that we have yet to meet, and we saw a diamonback python on the road the other day. Okay even Michigan has a snake on the road every now and again but a friggin python???
By the way, as I have mentioned before, when people hear you are going to Australia they forward you some variation of this
or at least just this
Now I have yet to make an acquaintance with that particular snake but I'm sure several of his friends are longing to meet me.
Even the fuzzies are dangerous. Koalas can chase you and bite you and they have chlamydia and huge claws and kangaroo claws are the size of jacknives and some of them are like six feet tall and they really do box and male platypuses are poisonous and echidneas are spikey and even the magpies want to rip your eyeballs out and my god what is up with the wildlife?? All of the most venomous and most deadly creatures in the world call this continent home and Gina and I decided to TAKE A LOVELY LITTLE JAUNT THROUGH IT.
Jane took us to see some lovely waterfalls (more about that later) and secretly brought the snakebit kit and a big tub of salt. Plus the usual mozzie spray, sunscreen, and enough food and water for a week. Why? Because you always have to assume there is danger at every turn. The salt was for leeches, which don't restrict themselves to water like Michigan leeches. Oh no. Let's just come right up on land and say howdy do. They sit on things like toilet seats and handrails and wait until they can smell you and then they latch on with their gross leechy mouths until you realize you're covered in blood and only then do you douse them in salt. Only then do they shrivel up like Satan's minions and you are left to mop up the blood and cry.
So let's say we manage to escape all the hostile wildlife, there's still rip currents and landslides and hurricanes and fire coral and hundreds of miles of desert, not to mention getting coerced into an unmarked van in Mildura. And don't even get me started about the massive bush fires. Plus there's always the normal civilization stuff like being run over by a car which is a very real possibility in a country where every single driver sees pedestrians as a challenge for their aim.
On this note, Gina and I started scuba lessons two days ago. Day 1 was fine, we paddled in circles around a hotel swimming pool like newborn manatees, then practiced what to do if any and/or all of our equipment failed. You are out of oxygen. Go. Your sister is out of oxygen. Go. Your mask is full of water. Go. You don't even have a mask anymore. Go. Your mask is gone your regulator is broken you are separated from your group your car is on fire you have a raging case of athletes foot and now you are out of oxygen. Go.
That was nerve wracking but fine. We like our instructor and can keep a healthy sense of humor about how stupid we look, waddling around with several kilos of gear on in a swimming pool. Yeah but then today happened.
I'll say it. It was terrible. I wasn't sure if I was going to vomit or drown or both. Gina wasn't far off those same feelings. You'll notice in my rant about Australia's Most Deadly that I did not mention sharks. I was saving it. The latest shark attack was dum dum da dum......here. In Port Macquarie. Four days ago. A bodyboarder was bitten in the early evening last Saturday; they sewed his butt back together and closed the beaches for a few days. Now I am not exactly going to go out and shake fins with a shark but I agree with Rick (our instructor) that they have been villainized and misunderstood. Rick has been diving for 25 years and he said he was going to go spear fishing that day at that same beach but saw the water and said nope. Also I guess 5pm is a risky shark feeding time. Also note that the man was bitten but not chewed. So basically all signs point to a scared or surprised animal, not necessarily a hostile one. Anyways A) we trust Rick's judgement and B) at this point if I saw a shark I would probably just pull a Bugs Bunny and run across the water all the way back to the car. Which, given the spider/snake/claw/tentacle situation, I would probably drive to the Sydney airport and fly to somewhere that is not trying to kill me. At least Michigan is too cold for Funnel Web spiders and toilet leeches.
So back to scuba. My mask, by the way, is yellow and looks exactly like the mask from Finding Nemo except it says "Rick's Dive School' on the back instead of 42 Wallaby Way Sydney. Day 2 was today, our first open water dives, pretty darn close to the shark beach previously mentioned. But sharks didn't even cross my mind. Fish didn't even cross my mind. The only problem I had with scuba today was the water. Ya know. It turns out it was much choppier underwater than the surface waves indicated, so the three of us were buffed around like a bunch of sneakers in a clothes dryer. The wetsuit and BCD vest compress your chest so it is hard to breathe anyways, much less from a little hose, when your eyeballs are telling you that you're underwater asshole, quit trying to breathe. The swaying sea kelp and lack of control when swimming added up to some extreme nausea, and when we surfaced way out in the middle of nowhere, Rick told me that if I had to puke while we were down that was okay but I would have to do it into my regulator (the thing that goes in your mouth aka your air supply aka the tube of life).
Excuse me? How is that supposed to work? How is one supposed to vomit into a valve without removing it from your mouth and then right away inhale from said valve because you need a breath because you just vomited? All while said vomit is swirling around your head? I didn't want to test this out so I kept choking back (literally) through the second dive, trying to focus on Rick's tank ahead of me and also equalize my ear pressure every other minute because my friggin ears wouldn't pop. Meanwhile the ocean is just swirling around and around whispering yesss, yessssss my precious, you're mine now.......
You know the phrase, "washed up onshore?" That is now a literal phrase for me. We literally washed up on shore. Rick took off his flippers, stood up, and walked to the beach like a man, but Gina and I rolled up onto the sand like a couple of old boots. Tanks and all. Then you just lay there like an upended turtle for a split second, staring up at the clear sky wondering how, after all of this, can you look yourself in the mirror anymore. Then a wave washed me onto my knees and I crawled towards the beach. Rick dragged Gina by her BCD strap. Wherever he is at this moment, I am sure there is a stiff drink involved. He deserves it.
Little did I know that the worst wasn't over. After two dives (especially our first two real dives ever) it takes a bit to get your land legs back. Plus you're basically wearing a refrigerator on your back. While wearing a wetsuit aka a corset. And a twenty pound weight belt. And carrying your two foot long fins. And mask. And snorkel. And what's left of your dignity. Then it was about a hundred yards across the soft sand to the wooden stairs that were our only way up the bluff and to the car. By this point my mood was somewhere in my neoprene booties. About 2/3 of the way to the stairs Rick looked back and pointed to a pod of dolphins skimming through the water, not far from where we dove.
Fuck the dolphins. I'm cold and I'm wet and I've got sand in places where sand really shouldn't be and I've scraped all my knuckles and there is bile in the back of my throat and I feel like a Jimmy Dean in this goddamn wetsuit and the sun is beating down and it feels like I have the U.S.S. Pennsylvania strapped to my back and my weight belt is sliding down so I can only take little tippy toe steps and my mask is caught in my hair FUCK. THE. DOLPHINS. MATE.
We pulled outselves together and out of the equipment once we reached the car though, and Rick was a champ about not openly laughing when Gina got stuck in hers with her arms in the Superman position. We agreed on a time and place for tomorrow's lesson (ha!) and because we still had two hours before Jane could pick us up, we had him drop us off at Town Beach, where we spread our towels and collapsed in the sun like the housecats we are.
So you see it's the ocean. It's the landscape. It's the animals and insects and the shady characters. They're all out to get you at any given moment. It is a very real warning here that if you plan on a country drive (or the Outback, heaven forbid) you should bring food and lots of water and maybe even extra gas. Clare and Adam keep a salt shaker in their car. If I lived here I would have to keep an uzi in mine, given the Huntsman-in-the-vehicle story. Because Australia wants to kill you. The wind screams and the ocean roars and even the dirt is red and raw. Even now, sitting in Jane's warm and inviting living room out in the boonies, I get the feeling that the critters are inching closer, sensing my fear. They know I'm foreign and tender to this wild place, that I have zero hunting skills and will scream and faint if I see so much as a spider bigger than an M&M. They know I have to go to sleep sometime. They can even smell my blood.