Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The road is home

The Great Ocean Road starts discreetly enough, with a sign you will miss if you're looking out the other side of the window or changing songs on the radio. You drive on a road that starts off like any other. And then it becomes good, and then it becomes great.

There are signs for crossing wombats, koalas, echidnas and kangaroos. It'd be a while before you saw any that weren't roadkill, the animal speed bumps on the highway from Sydney to Melbourne. The beach side views begin at Bells Beach and continue through to Angle Sea, and through to the a lighthouse with a red cap straight from the nostalgia of your childhood TV series Round The Twist. You sing the theme song on repeat in the car, aghast that you are face to face with a ghost of your younger years, here on the Victorian coast.

And the road begins to turn, a shoe lace through national park and that big ole pool of water; blue, green, big and beautiful. And then there are the wild koalas that move at dusk at the back of a caravan park. Slowly they migrate from small forks of gum tree branches you think will snap underneath the weight of lazy fur. You go on a bear hunt in socks and sandals, neck bent upward squinting. They sit in their respective trees, inconspicuous except for the moon-shaped shadows they cast. You count the koalas on your hands and run out of fingers. Two kookaburras sit and watch, you don't hear them laughing but you feel like they are.

Your excitement fills the car, wildlife has that effect on all of you. Giddy like children after the bear hunt. You make daisy chains in Lorne to hang on the car's rear view and slide down a grassy knoll on a skateboard. The hostel in Apollo Bay has a fire place and a glass interior you see from the outside. You wake up to see the sunrise from the rooftop and fall back to sleep. The twelve apostles are waiting, or the nine that are still there; the troopers that continue after the others flung themselves into the waves below.

The sun is generous when you thought it would be stingy. So you walk bare foot in the sand and your friends climb rocks and you dance around the bush with a native american head dress on, making tribal calls and beating on an African drum while photos are taken and tourists laugh. You have no shame, shame is overrated.

Driving from rock formation to rock formation, eating fish and chips by the sea and speeding back to see the sun set at the twelve apostles. Darkness sets in and you find yourself driving to Melba Gully on a hunt for glow worms. You meet a german couple and set off into the forest, scared, excited and armed only with a flash light. They surprise you, these glow worms that light the sides of the track like nature's fairy lights. A constellation of blue stars dotting the moss covered rocks and disappearing at dawn.

You love this road, your favourite road. Where on your last night you dance around a bonfire, outnumbered by germans who you teach drinking games. The smell of bushfire stains your clothes, the odour clinging to your skin as you reach Melbourne - a reminder of the country in the city that seems too urban after a week of small towns.

And it's here that you discover, again, how beautiful your own country is. How awesome and strange and adventurous it is. The bizarre animals, products of thousands of years of isolation and the sheer scale of this island continent. You climb a fence to frolick in a canola field, you drink sangria in a roof top bar in Melbourne that plays 80s video clips on it's big screen, you sing at the top of your lungs in the car with the windows down and eat, and eat, and eat.

You're saying hello and saying goodbye at the same time to the road, to your friends, to your country. The dates are rushing by you and you will never be here again. So you breathe deep and keep driving, vowing and wishing over and over to come back to this place some day.

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