Friday, May 21, 2010

We're Moving to the American South

Here's where the journey comes to an end. After 2 years covering the Middle East, Asia and Australia, I'm now back in America and settling into a brand-new city. Perhaps my next story, on a blog to come, will tell the tale of a Yankee who moves to the American South. My new life consists of people who tip their cowboy hats and call me "ma'am" when we pass on the sidewalk. Welcome to the great state of Georgia, where everything is peachy-keen, and nothing beats a tall glass of iced sugary-sweet tea.

I encourage you to read through the older posts on this blog, especially those written in Egypt and India, which tell some of the most colorful tales.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Walkin' on pavement

If The Onion newspaper -- a satirical paper that prints fake, funny news -- had an Australia edition, it would probably headline:

Last intersection in country filled in with circle.

Australians seem to have an aversion to intersecting lines. Everywhere -- even quiet suburban streets in tucked-away neighborhoods -- have "roundabouts" where there should be intersections. I suppose they may see this as posh European design, or perhaps as a good opportunity to never test their brakes. Occasionally, I can see the merit in the occasional tasteful roundabout. But the Australians have really gotten carried away with this. They've even begun creating "figure 8's" -- a roundabout that opens directly into another roundabout.

There's a figure 8 down the street from my sister Aruna's house in Sydney, which I walk past everyday on my way to somewhere in the neighborhood: the library, the park, the childcare center, the train station. In fact, I do a lot of walking these days, which leads me to this conclusion:

When this trip ends and I re-enter the "real world," the hardest thing to readjust to will be walking on pavement.

I started walking on pavement when I reached Sydney. Aruna Di’s house is in a neighborhood designed for pedestrians, with wide sidewalks large enough for two people heading in opposite directions, each pushing strollers, to pass by comfortably. This is a massive improvement over the suburbs and exurbs designed around the idea that no one will ever walk; where the narrow sidewalks end abruptly if they exist at all. Having usable sidewalks is a major blessing.

Still, after months on dirt and sand, my legs aren’t used to stepping on hard pavement surfaces, and my knees are hurting from the impact. Normally I wouldn’t mention this – as my knees are sensitive and prone to aches – but Sara’s knees are hurting as well, and hers are normally as healthy as can be. “This isn’t normal for my knees,” she says. “It’s definitely the pavement.”

Still, I can’t complain. One of the biggest blessings about staying inside a house instead of a car is that you don’t remain in one position for several hours a day, or have to apply pressure to your joints as you maneuver in and out of tight spaces.
As a result, your body becames far less stiff. With the migration toward ceilings that allows you to stand up, and a little help from a Wii Fit, you even notice your posture improving again.

Living in a house rather than a car -- complete with luxuries such as showers and tea kettles -- is amping us up for re-entering the workforce.

We sold the car for less than we wanted, largely because I have a job waiting for me in the U.S. and I wanted to rush back to re-start my life, and didn't feel like waiting around many more weeks while my life is put on hold.

In the end the car ... after you include resale loss, repairs, servicing, towing insurance, title transfer, sales tax and tools bought ... came to an out-of-pocket net expense of $2500 for 6.5 months of use. In other words, it costs the two of us about $50 per week per person.

Add this to the food/fuel/cost-of-living of $22 to $25 per day per person ($154 to $175 per week), and you end up with a weekly expense total ranging between $200 to $225 per person - in other words, around $1000 per person per month.

And all these calculations are done in Australian dollars -- so minus 10 percent and you have the cost in US Dollars ($900 per month per person).

That's not bad for half a year of 4-Wheel-Driving around the great Outback desert of Australia. :-)

That figure represents such frugality as buying everything secondhand, eating the cheapest groceries (goodbye, blueberries -- hello, pasta), not having health insurance, sharing rides with other backpackers for extra gas money, and spending 3 weeks at the end of the trip selling off everything from our sleeping bags to our prepaid mobile phone.

On the other hand, that figure also represents such extravagances as chartering a boat out to an undeveloped island in the Whitsundays where we were the only people on a white-sand beach and we could snorkel with giant sea turtles over vibrant coral reef. Which, let's not forget, is the reason we're in Australia in the first place.

Two years ago, I had never snorkeled in my life; now I've seen some of the most beautiful scuba and snorkel areas in the world, from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Indonesian tropics to the Great Barrier Reef. Two years ago, I had never 4-Wheel-Drove through deep sand dunes, or studied the tides to decide whether or not it was safe to camp in a certain spot on the beach.

So when people hear about my adventure and say, "whoa, you must be rich!" I just smile and wonder -- would they ever believe me if I told them the true cost?