"What's that, Skippy? You want to know why John went to bed already? John, Skippy is here and he wants you to come back outside!"
The group of bikers standing outside a hostel bunk-room door were taunting a sleeping friend. The group had pulled in earlier on their motorbikes, and us Tasmanian tour passengers had immediately fled the hostel, fanning out across the town of Strahan (pronounced Strawn) to look for dinner. Only later, when we returned, did we realise how silly and unthreatening these Skippy the Bush Kangaroo fans were.
Our group had left Cradle Mountain earlier on this Sunday afternoon, after wandering around looking at lakes, wombats, and wallabies for a few days. We’d pulled into this ramshackle old backpackers after stopping at a beach to look for whales. My ability to share space had been tested all week here in Tasmania, where after months of travelling solo I had signed up for a bargain tour. And we were nearing the end. I’d managed to survive without much agitation, to my surprise. This was my last night of sharing a room, at least until I got to the freighter in French Polynesia in a month’s time.
I’m guessing they don’t have Skippy in Tahiti.
The next morning, we were all up early after part of the group had been chastised for lateness the day before. I couldn’t wait to get back to Hobart. I was tired and really needed to do laundry.
We made stops en route to Hobart, seeing waterfalls and chilly beaches. By the time we turned off to the last scheduled stop, Mount Field National Park, I wanted to say "Do we have to?"
Our driver let us off at something called the Tall Trees Walk.
"Walk down and I'll meet you at Russell Falls."
Obligingly but without enthusiasm, we all started hiking into the rainforest, with no idea of what to expect.
And we're glad we did. The forest turned out to be stunning – its undergrowth blanketed in bright green moss, its ferns and trees towering high above us in the grand, shaded rainforest.
Lost among the scenery, we all quieted down and walked through the trees, gazing up with wonder. Our long drive was forgotten as we wandered through the trees on our way to the waterfalls. And once we all piled back into the minibus and pulled away, we came across a double rainbow.
On arrival back in Hobart, I checked into my private room, then immediately raced back out for Thai food and a quick look at the Salamanca harbour before collapsing exhausted into my own room. That next day was full of errands – hair colour, laundry, post office, touristing, and replacing my lost mini Mag-lite. I got through it all before catching a morning Virgin Australia flight from Hobart to Sydney on Wednesday.
Arriving in Sydney produced a jumble of emotional reactions in me. I’d last been here in 2003, when I used to come down for a dose or urban living during the two years I lived on and off in rural New South Wales. I had planned to meet my former near-in-laws for a dinner cruise around Sydney Harbour later. We were still friendly, though my ex from that time had since married and we’d quit exchanging emails.
I hurried to my budget hotel in Kings Cross, then caught the train to the harbour. The evening was misty and overcast, and as I found my way to the meeting point on the pier, I thought about the road not taken. Would I have a family now? Would I have gotten a work visa, found a job? What kind of job could a comic book editor and travel writer get in rural New South Wales?
But had I stayed in Australia, I’d probably never have gone on my second trip around the world, my second MariesWorldTour.com. I’d never have moved to Kuwait or Cairo to make comic books or to Uganda with a German development worker I’d met in Sudan, where we were both chased by an angry hippopotamus. I might have written my travel narrative, Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik, as that was about my 2001 trip from Cape Town to Cairo, but I wouldn’t have been in a position to write Iron Man books, as I’ve recently been doing. I certainly wouldn’t call New York my home base.
What would my life be like, I wondered, if I’d become an Australian?
We’ll never know, I thought, as I greeted my former family. But over the next few days, as I caught up with old friends for drinks and meals, and went to see Cate Blanchett on-stage at the Sydney Theatre Company, I had just a little taste.
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