We landed in Melbourne via Air New Zealand on July 28th, 2016 but before telling of our near month stay in the city as we waited for the ideal house on wheels to make itself available to us, I must mention how absolutely fabulous (Hobbit Style Second Breakfast on our connecting flight, I’m looking at you) it was to fly Air New Zealand. Now that that has been mentioned, onward to our Melbourne misadventures. We, in the spirit of our journey, decided not to do a lot of planning before the trip; a circumstance that has allowed us to adapt quickly to figurative (and literal) bumps in the road. The first of which falls under the figurative. Our first choice in Melbourne Airbnbs* — which we requested a few hours before our flight out of LAX — denied the booking due to such short notice. We received this news during our layover in Auckland. Add equal parts stress, terror, and travel exhaustion, mix it with a 30-minute free airport wifi countdown, sprinkle in some classic miscommunication and you have the recipe for our first micro-fight. Tempers flared but then subsided, solo walks around the terminal were had, and we decided upon an Airbnb in St. Kilda with an instant booking option before boarding our connecting flight. See? We learn quickly.
Unlike most stateside airports that we’ve experienced, Melbourne gave us free luggage trolleys and unlimited wifi upon landing. We were in need of both as we filled two carts with our luggage and spent some time researching the most cost-effective and efficient way to get to our home for the week. For travel from the airport to the city center, SkyBus tickets were purchased; Myki passes were acquired to take advantage of Melbourne’s phenomenal public transportation grid. Easy — as our Australian contemporaries are want to declare. What was anything but was how we would carry our bursting-at-the-seams luggage. Mind you, we both packed as minimally and conscientious of space as possible, after all, we plan to live out of a van for an entire year. That being said, we plan to live out of a van for an entire year. Aside from the occasional urban lifestyle needs, we were flying into an Australian winter and we had to accommodate our wide variety of hiking and camping gear that we’ve slowly collected, one adventure at a time.
We weighed our logistical options upon disembarking from the SkyBus at Southern Cross Station and our burdens were as follows as we made our way to the 12 tram. Kathryn had her 65 L Osprey strapped to her back and hips, her 55 L Kelty backpack awkwardly hugging her front while simultaneously blocking the majority of her downward view, and a heavy Incase camera shoulder bag hybrid alternated at random intervals cutting off the circulation of either hand. Having been packed as a checked baggage, my 65 L North Face rested uncomfortably on my back while I clenched betwixt my teeth our 35 L Boreas daypack whose shoulder straps found difficulty hanging onto my swooped shoulders. My left shoulder being pulled down by the Timbuk2 daypack attached to my hand, my right dragged significantly lower by our 70 L Poler duffle bag. We have no doubt that our encumbered balancing acts were the subjects of several stories, told in both visual and verbal mediums, by other foreign commuters. And rightly so, for we were stylishly ridiculous as we left the safety of the station and hit the streets of Melbourne.
A little disoriented and tired of waiting at a crosswalk, Kathryn muttered something about being able to continue on the street we were on as she walked away. I was utterly perplexed when I saw her take a step off the curb at the next crosswalk. “Didn’t you just say that…” my brain slowly processed as I looked back towards the crosswalk we had just vacated. Now would be the time to make it clear that any mention of changing the direction of my line of sight entails the entire shifting of my body, the bags had made the evolutionary mechanics of my neck rather obsolete. By the time I turned around, I caught the tail end of what was, without a doubt, a spectacularly turned right ankle by Kathryn. The preceding fall had to have been violent, the amount of weight strapped to both her back and front would have gathered significant momentum once her treacherous ankle had abandoned her attempts at balance. Falls, once the damage has been measured and deemed minor, are funny. This fall, traffic and all, I hate to admit, was funny immediately.
Logic, my time studying physics in university, my own rather lengthy experiences with falling, all combine to convince me about the severity of the fall, but that is not my reality.
The moment is one of those in which my hypothalamus, activated by the sight of my love’s ever so precious (and tiny) head close to oncoming traffic, signals my adrenal glands to suddenly increase the secretion of adrenaline; dopamine poured through the synapses of my brain — slowing down the action. Or maybe that’s just one of the many tricks our memory can beguile us with. From my perspective, it seemed that Kathryn had had enough of the journey and decided to waddle forward and slowly, crazy slowly, press her 14th-month pregnancy bump to the ground to let fate and Melbourne traffic take control of the situation as she rocked face first towards immediate respite.
We have been together long enough for me to know that while Kathryn enjoys napping, she does not make a habit of doing so on the side of the road. She does, however, from time to time, fall — gracefully. I approached her, still in her semi-recumbent pose, “Are you okay?” My initial smirk fading into genuine concern. “Yes, but I cannot get up on my own” she painfully admitted. I shift my bags and extend a left hand to her right and she’s up but torn thrice over, pant leg, knee, and ego. A joke about her new found fame as an Internet sensation releases some of the tension but I know the episode will weigh heavy on her for the duration of the trek. She gathers herself and handles her emotions in a way that most would not and her reaction fills me with pride and reassurance in the trials to come. We make it to the first of our four Melbourne lodgings without further incident.
In working multiple jobs in preparation for this trip, we gave up a lot as the individual pieces of something greater than ourselves. Primarily, that most precious of commodities, time — specifically time together. Multiple jobs with contrasting work schedules left us burnt out separate entities intertwined upon the couch with just enough energy to binge on one Netflix show or another. I felt myself a husk, shorn of its nutrients. Melbourne and the wait for the best campervan option gave us all that time together we had forfeited. That is to say, the city presented manifold endeavors for us to spend time with one another; we both know that the relationship time we sacrificed back home, was just that, an offer surrendered to the gods of wanderlust.
Having been saved from our emotional emaciation, we were gluttonous in our city dwelling.
We slept through nap alarms set for 7 PM and woke up the next morning at 7 AM, we did groceries together, we planned experimental meals, we developed an affinity for kangaroo meat, we slept in late, we made breakfast, we smashed avocados, we explored, we went out in search of craft beer, we celebrated a birthday, we had coffee, we learned the difference between a long black and a flat white, we snuck beers into matinees, we walked up and down the streets of Melbourne looking for the dopest of street art, we made plans that we never got around to, we had meaningful conversations, we opened up an Australian bank account, we had our first legitimate dumpling experience followed by a second and a third, we got caught in the rain, we did groceries together, we baked pizzas from scratch, we read poetry to one another, we got lost in search of nothing but wonder, we read voraciously, we found old friends at thrift stores and made sure to take them with us, we looked at our first 4x4 living option and realized instantly that we would need more space, we stayed in one neighborhood after another, we took in a play, we walked into unfamiliar parks with unknown tree-dwelling marsupials, we made new friends, we laughed with them, we shared in their sorrow, and we, eventually, bought a home. The story behind (the van formerly known as) Thib’Oz must be told at another time, but do know that it came just in time, for our moods (even amongst all the amazing experiences) had started to match the weather.
While April might be the cruelest month, Kathryn and me, being stateside southerners**, experienced our coldest month of August, both past, and future, here in Australia. We were told from our first day in Melbourne all the way through our last, almost a full lunar cycle, that winter had ended and soon the shy spring would make its personality known. I have known shy, I have known socially awkward, I have known coy, but my cosmos has the Australian sun been introverted and egregiously timid during our time in the country. Spring, if we are to trust the local shops and their end-of-winter sales, proved itself to be dreary and wet providing us with windy overcast days usually bookended by days of cold showers. Kathryn said it best when she contemplated the nature of the wind that had tormented us so, “even the briefest of breezes carries a whisper that chills your spine in reminder of its Antarctic origin.”
Melbourne is a wonderful city — the people are extremely friendly, the city itself is beautifully walkable with plenty of green spaces, the public transportation is superb and one of the easiest to learn. Miami is a wonderful city — the people are rude, distances and humidity team up to make sure that you cannot walk anywhere, and the public transportation is as atrocious as the traffic it’s often stuck in. But from both, my three decades in Miami and my recent experiences, I theorize that one can live a similar life in either city. Whatever you are searching for, you will find it amongst the multitude. The malaise we both started to feel in Melbourne had nothing to do with the city itself, it came from within. We did not leave our responsibilities in Miami behind to live a work-free facsimile of our Miami life.
We came to commune with nature, to throw ourselves into the wild, to gather no moss.
As we finished the deep cleaning of the van and completed the necessary work it needed to make it our home (still a work in progress), we went back to the city center in search of a few postcards to keep as souvenirs. Lacking the iconic cityscapes of Sydney with its harbour and opera house, this task proved difficult, until we came upon the perfect one —
The 25th of August was the last day of our fourth Airbnb so we figured that would be the best time to finish loading up the Mazda E2000 pop-top campervan formerly known as Thib’Oz and head towards South Australia via the Great Ocean Road. We were eager to start our experience with Van Life and so we left Melbourne late, well after the sun had set…
*We use Airbnb almost exclusively when we travel stateside and in Europe. While some countries have affordable hostels, we found them to be outrageously expensive in Australia.
**Mobile, AL is definitely in the South, I’m never sure what to make of Florida, let alone Miami.