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Chapter 29 – Beaches, Brisbane, and Breakouts.

It’s hard to garner sympathy for run-of-the-mill problems when you’re living in the tropics. When the majority of your friends and family are suffering through blizzards, icy roads, foggy mornings, or never-ending gray skies, they are quick to point out that they would gladly shoulder your burdens in exchange for a morning beneath the palm trees. Life in the tropics does have its perks but as with any shiny new possession, eventually it loses its luster. It’s human nature to take even the greatest gifts for granted after a while. So you would forgive Dani and I if we walked over the last sand dune and arrived on the spectacular beaches of 1770 and weren’t completely blown away. You would understand if we saw just another tropical beach, just another magnificent shore line, just more palm trees swaying in the breeze.

Fortunately we have a secret weapon.

Precisely 2 seconds after we made it to the beach he came bounding over that same dune. In a spectacular display of limbs, sand, and fur Nova stood triumphant at the top of the sand pile. He surveyed the rest of the beach and a maniacal grin spread across his face.

I don’t know if it’s the way sand feels beneath his paws, the smell of the salt water, or something else we can’t detect, but something about the beach sends Nova into an absolute frenzy. He sprints from the dune to the water, from the water to Dani, from Dani to me, back to the water, up to a piece of drift wood, picks it up and shakes it violently, throws it down and sprints back to the water, shakes his head in the surf, sprints back to Dani, through her legs, sprints over to me – all the while sending up a giant rooster tail of sand behind him. He’s a non-stop tornado of excitement.

We travelled like this up and down the beach, laughing and chasing each other. We discovered beached blue-bottle jelly fish, shells from countless sea creatures, crabs alive and dead, and a wondrous amount of treasures we couldn’t identify.  The three of us shared a childlike sense of wonder and amazement for our findings, driven by the pure exuberance of our dog. Our morning on the beach of 1770 was postcard perfect.

Brisbane followed 1770.

We planned to visit friends, see the city, and enjoy her sites. When we arrived I was instead transported back in time to my one and only gymnastics lesson as a young boy. I had asked to go, had wanted to go. I wanted to do flips and cartwheels and be a ninja. So my mother had enrolled me at the local Y and I was thrilled. When I arrived I immediately recognized that something was wrong. I stood head and shoulders (and then some) above everyone else there. Out of the 30 or so kids there I was the one and only boy and had at least 3 or 4 years on the rest of the class. Not to be deterred, I spent an hour jumping over balance beams at calf height, doing summer saults on a blue mat, and generally standing out like a sore thumb. A big, awkward sore thumb.

It was the same story in Brisbane. Our family and our camper van fit in about as well as a 9 year old boy in a gymnastics class for 4 year old girls.

We left early on Sunday and made a break for the New South Wales boarder. Now that we had been on the road for a handful of days we were all used to the routine. Nova was finally content to sit in the back and watch the world go by. Dani and I took turns driving and generally accepted that we would hit the road first and figure out where we were going second. We took a page out of Nova’s book and lived the day that was in front of us, not the one following, nor the one just passed. We would pick out places on the map either triggered by friend’s recommendations or our own curiosity, and drive. We visited surfing hot spots, rugged fishing towns, and beach hamlets.

After a night of free-camping we pulled into a nameless beach town in northern NSW and parked the van. We all piled out and went for a saunter around. It was a truly spectacular day – blue skies with the sun warming everything just enough. We found a grassy hill and sat down for a snack of bread and cheese. We spent an hour snacking and watching the surfers try and tame the rolling waves below. As the sun climbed higher in the sky we decided to get back on the road. We grabbed some flat whites at a local café and wandered back to the van.

I didn’t see it until we were almost at the van but when I did, my heart sank.

Within this van was packed every single thing we owned in this world. Our laptops, clothes, precious belongings, even Dani’s wedding dress. As we got closer there was no mistaking what I had spotted. The window above the side door had been pried aside and the screen torn away. While we were picnicking on the hill and ordering coffees, someone had been breaking in to our van.

It’s an awful feeling. That moment when you realize that you have been done, that it’s over and you can’t go back and stop it. You feel helpless and violated all at once. There was nothing for it but to unlock the van and see what we had lost.

“Wait a minute,” Dani stopped me before I opened the door, “what did you just do?”

“I unlocked the van, what do you mean?”

And then it dawned on me. Why would someone pry open the window and rip off the screen to break in to our van only to close the door and lock it again behind them? Hope stirred in me.

Sure enough the inside of the van was exactly how we had left it. Our bags were still snuggly packed away. The wedding dress was untouched. The laptops were right where we left them. Nothing had been moved or tampered with in any way. So what was going on here? Did we perhaps come back in time to interrupt the would be thieves? It was a mystery that would not remain unsolved for long. I walked around to the drivers side and Dani put Nova in the back as we prepared to hit the road. And then Dani started to laugh. Through her giggles she called me back over to the side of the van. I did and couldn’t help but laugh with her.

No one had tried to get in to our van after all – instead someone had been trying to get out.

Sticking out of the now screen-less window was a giant head framed by a furry black and gold mane. His expression was blank, perhaps his best attempt at nonchalant innocence: “What? Are we not going? Let’s go.”

With the case of the missing screen solved we hit the road once again. Nova was more than thrilled with his exploits and was now thoroughly enjoying his new found freedom. In the front of the van I picked a random caravan park off the map. It was on a peninsula of land sticking out like a finger pointing north. There were beaches on all sides of the finger and a caravan park at the end. It had great potential.

We arrived in darkness but even without light to go by we could tell this place would be a dud. Beaches were more mud than sand, the houses were run down, the roads were poor, and there was virtually no sign of life. We checked in to our caravan park and discovered it to be just as lacking as the small town. Apparently this was a popular place for fisherman to stay because they could easily launch their boats and get to some great surrounding waters. From the shore though, there was not much to do.

We asked after a store but were told the closest was 30 minutes away and most definitely closed at this hour. Our only option was a Leagues Club which had a $6.99 steak and chips dinner on offer. I like a bargain as much as the next guy but I also wasn’t about to risk a day of driving with angry bum – an unavoidable side dish with $6.99 steak and chips.

We drove through the town (which took less than a minute) and were just about to resign ourselves to a dinner of crackers and cheese when we stumbled upon something rather unexpected.

There, in this flyspeck, rundown town, we found a little bit of home.

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