Friday, January 27, 2017

Australia Update, the First 10 Days

For everyone waiting for an Australia update, the time has come.  I will try to bring you up to date on the last 10 days down under.


From the beginning.  We arrived on Australia on the morning of the 16th in Sydney.  As we were flying standby it was touch and go for a bit, and we had to overnight in LA after not getting seats on the only AA LAX to Sydney flight.  After a grueling 13 hours in tourist class, we stumbled into the light with cankles and jetlag. 

In a daze we managed to book a Quantas flight to Melbourne where our van was to be delivered.  Based on limited information from the receiving shipping company we had expected to have the van by the 18th.  We were sorely mistaken, it would take until the 24th for the van to be released to us.

In the meantime we were going to stay in hotels and enjoy the city.  Unbeknownst to us the Australia Open (AO) was being held in Melbourne.  The AO combined with the peak tourist/vacation season meant that accommodation in the city was pushed to it’s limit.  The day after we arrived 95% of hotel rooms were booked out, and the few remaining had doubled their rates.  After 2 days we realized it would be a while until the van was released, so we started booking Air BnB rooms in the suburbs.  While it was a 40 minute drive into the city, we were no longer hemorrhaging cash at an alarming rate. 

During the last 10 days we have thoroughly enjoyed Melbourne, though like most large cities parking is a challenge and expense we would prefer to avoid.  The public transit system here is quite good, with daily fares maxing out at about 7USD.  A number of locals have contacted us over the last week, and we have met many of them.  Thanks for the warm welcome! 

In preparation for the vans arrival we needed to clear it with customs and arrange an Australia Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS) inspection.  We opted to rent a compact car until the van arrived as we needed to reach various locations which are a bit far by public transit.  Driving on the left is a bit of a challenge, but after a few days behind the wheel, I have gotten the hang of it…mostly…

Customs and AQIS are located in an unassuming building near the Tullamarine airport.  It took three tries to find the visitor's parking and entrance, but most of that can be chalked up to my poor left-side driving skills. We were directed to the second floor waiting area, where 30 chairs sat empty, and only 1 other person waited.  After about an hour, we had cleared customs.  This consisted of getting our CPD Carnet stamped (they keep a sheet from it), and processing our list of unaccompanied personal affects which were packed in the van. AQIS (one counter over) reviewed our effects list, vehicle information, and bill of lading.  From this, they generated an inspection protocol for the inspectors to follow.  We paid for the inspection and received a reference number.  We forwarded this information to the Australian shipping company who would arrange for the inspection at their warehouse (where we would be present).

After customs and AQIS, we played the waiting game.  On the evening of the 19th the van's container was delivered to the warehouse.  Most businesses here are not open after 5, and do not work weekends, so it wasn’t until Monday that it was unpacked and the inspection scheduled.  On Tuesday (finally!) we arrived at the warehouse for the inspection and clearance.  We passed with flying colors.  The  inspector said that most vehicles do not clear on the first try, and require cleaning.  This means trucking the van to an approved location, and paying to have it cleaned.  This could take up to 14 days, and cost $400AUD or more. 

After a few hours and a call to the AQIS help line, the approval document was emailed to us (they are all digital here!), we settled our paperwork with the shipping company, and drove the van out of the warehouse.

In the parking lot, we discovered that when putting on the shipping wheels in LA, some idiot had cross-threaded two lug bolts on the left rear wheel.  Apparently turning harder doesn’t fix the problem…  About half the threads in the hub were destroyed, and 2 lug bolts were beyond saving.  No one had told us about this, even though they had a month, and we were going be stuck with a expensive repair $$$$ and a flatbed truck to a shop. 

At this point, it was near closing time (about 4:30).  The shipping company had a shop on site for maintaining their 40 trucks, and they offered to help.  After a closer examination, I decided that there was sufficient threads left in the hub to recover the hole using a tap.  Unfortunately, 14mmx1.5 is not a common bolt size, so the shop didn’t have the correct tap (my tap kit maxes out at 12mm).  They graciously offered to give me a ride to a nearby tool shop (which was closing in 15 minutes) where I was able to buy a tap of the correct size.

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Back at the warehouse, I recovered the holes, and borrowed two lug bolts from the front wheels which got us back on the road.  Other than the damaged hub, the van was in one piece with all its contents intact.  

Here is the van finally on Australia soil (or pavement) for the first time.
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A local sprinter owner had offered us a place to camp on his property in the suburbs, so we made the drive out west the next day.  He also gave us 2 new lug bolts to replace the damaged ones.  Thanks, Eric! 

Eric also helped me install a set of right-hand-drive headlights on the van. These were donated by a consortium of interested parties.  Thanks!  This way we don't blind oncoming drivers with our left-hand-drive headlights.

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Here are some random photos of our explorations around the city.


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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Success at Last

Quick update.  We got the van back last night.  There was some drama due to the USA side shipper damaging one of the rear hubs.  We got it sorted with a trip to a tool supply shop, more details at a later date.


Here the van sits on Australian soil (or pavement I guess).  We still need to recommission several of the vans systems, and repack everything.  Thankfully other than the damaged hub the van arrived complete and in one piece. We may be without internet for a few days, so expect a few days between posts.


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Monday, January 23, 2017

First Impressions of Australia

By Jen.

We love going to new places and seeing how they handle things differently. Australia is an interesting place because they speak the same language, but they have different connotations and denotations. For example, instead of saying “where is your trash?”, you say “where is your bin?” One that really got me was when we were checking out, they asked “cash out?” So, I said, “yes, you can close me out,” thinking that they were asking if they could close the transaction or if wanted to add anything else. But, they actually were asking if I wanted to withdraw cash. Or, when I asked about a “grocery store”, they had no clue what I meant. Had to use “supermarket” instead. No “sack” here, have to use “bag.” “Takeaway” instead of “to-go.”

Also, their road signs are fairly different from ours. A lot more text and flexibility. Instead of a “shoulder” on the road, they have an “emergency lane,” which often can be used as a regular lane during rush hours. Of course, they drive on the left, with right-hand drive vehicles. The gas and brake is still oriented the same way (brake on the left, gas on the right), but the blinker is switched (at least on this Suzuki car). So, often when Jonathan is trying to turn on a turning signal, the wipers come on instead. Oops… And, the parking designations mention the number of hours that you can park (the # in front of the P) and when you can park.



We have noticed that Google Maps isn’t the best in Australia (although it is recommended by the locals). It doesn’t do a good job of knowing turns that you can’t make (no U-turn or no-right-turn areas), so often we have to move past its recommendation and have it re-route.

Melbourne is a very lovely city. It is called the most livable city in the world, and I can see why. It is a gorgeous city. Very artistic, beautiful weather year round (rarely freezes). Public transportation is at most $8 per day for the whole system; much less if you buy a yearly pass. Very rarely do people honk at you. There are parks everywhere! Beautiful, well-maintained parks with running and walking paths. Overall a wonderful city. I would love to live here.

Things are a bit more expensive here, but not too much, especially with the US dollar being so strong. We have been going to nice sit-down restaurants, which cost about the same as what it would cost in the US for a medium-nice restaurant in the states, after tip is added in. The service has been about the same as in the US, if not better.

Apparently there is a decent street-art (graffiti) culture here. Alleyways (“laneways” here) are covered in spray paint, with the content changing daily.




There are a lot of unique, dedicated shops in Melbourne. There was an entire store dedicated to babushkas. One of our favorites, was a store called “Wunderkammer,” a shop of “scientific curiosities, artefacts, and ephemera.”

We made the mandatory stop at a McDonald’s. Several unique items on their menu include a halloumi burger (type of a grilled cheese), a chicken-avocado burger, cinnamon scrolls, and macarons. Plus, they have self-service kiosks where you order your food. We did find their Big Mac looks closer to the actual picture here, and is a bit larger. We pass one all the time here, nearly as often as we do in the states.

We also saw our first wild kangaroos of the trip on Friday. Almost got to see a koala, but couldn’t find him. Interesting fact: Australia has eastern grey kangaroos and red kangaroos (more westerly); the USA has eastern gray squirrels and red squirrels (more westerly). Intriguing, huh?





As a note, our phones and cell service have been working very well here. Texts are unlimited and free, while data is the same rate as in the US. On cell service, calls cost $0.20/min, but on wifi are much less expensive.

In regards to food, Australians are foodies after my own heart! They believe in having breakfast all day long (unfortunate for Jonathan’s egg allergy). They also seem keen on their “sweets” (desserts). Notable places we have eaten (all were delicious):

Journeyman (Australian, Lunch)
Il Parco (Italian, Dinner)
Caffe E Torta (Italian, Lunch)
Tiba’s on Lygon (Lebanese, Dinner)
Movida (Spanish, Lunch)

The Waiting Game

By Jen.

We flew standby to Australia, courtesy of a generous friend at American Airlines. But, since we were on D3 passes, we were almost always at the end of the list. So, there was no way we would be on the plane unless there was enough space for everyone to get on it. On Friday the 13th, we caught the Springfield-Dallas flight with no issues, but the Dallas to Los Angeles flights were pretty full. The first flight was too full for us to get on. At the second flight, the monitor at the gate was broken, so we couldn’t see where we were at on the list. But most of the people from the flight before were with us still; so we knew we were still at the bottom. An employee was watching the list on her phone and mentioned that another standby just joined the list. I mentioned that we were probably at the very bottom, and she asked if we were these people. I looked, and we weren’t even on the list! This has happened to me before. Sometimes when rolling over the standbys to the next flight (which has to be done manually, gotta love our antiquated systems; I just hope they don't develop carpal tunnel syndrome), people accidentally get dropped off. No huge deal, we just asked to be added back on. And, then we were actually able to get on the next flight to Los Angeles.



Of course, when we arrived, it was past the time for the only flight to Sydney, Australia, that we could catch. And, it was past midnight, so I could not use a booking service like hotwire.com to get a good deal on a hotel. So, we just picked the closest hotel with a shuttle and asked for the AAA discount. Saved us $10. But the flight for Sydney is only once a day at 10:45pm, so we had all the next day to burn. Since Jonathan was feeling pretty sick, we just chilled in the hotel lobby for most of the day.

Around noon, we decided to go to the airport for lunch, but our plans were curtailed when we tried to print our priority-verification tickets to get through security. The kiosks didn’t have our names or reservation number. Sadly, this has also happened to us before when travelling non-rev, particularly when you get dropped off the list on an earlier leg, they sometimes forget to add your last leg. We tried to get assistance, but they said we needed to wait in the long line. I remembered shorter lines in the international terminal, so I figured we could go over there to do that. When we finally got over, we discovered there wasn’t actually an AA counter there. Disheartened, growing hungrier and more desperate by the second, I noticed a pizza place that was on this side of security. So, we just grabbed some lunch there to refuel and give us the energy to stand in long lines.

Reenergized, we went back to Terminal 4 to get in the long line. But, there was an employee there guarding the entrance, verifying whether you actually needed to get in the long line. While helpful, she kept telling us we could get our problem fixed elsewhere, so we spent a few walks going back and forth down the long corridor trying to do as she said and getting sent back to the long line by someone else. Finally, we decided that one of us ought to get in the long line while the other tried the suggestions she made. Jonathan got in the line while I headed out to our last resort outside of the line. I made it to the counter, and the lady started helping me, so I called Jonathan to come to me. But, after I made the call, she told me that I really ought to have been in the long line and she couldn’t help Jonathan too. As I called him back, she changed her mind and told me that if I could get him here right now, she could process him quickly as well. Fortunately, Jonathan was almost there, so we were then both processed and we had our passes to get through security. Of course, it was way too early to spend the rest of the day in the airport, so we caught the shuttle back to the hotel lobby.

That evening, we departed about 3 hours early to catch dinner and be at the gate well before they started boarding. We were numbers 13 and 14 of 16 on the standby list, and the AA.com site only showed 4 seats available, so not very promising. But at 10:21 pm, they called us to the counter, so we thought we were getting on. But then they told us that they still had 12 people missing and wanted to make sure we were here. So, we stood waiting for another 10 minutes and we had watched quite a few people coming through the line, so we weren’t sure that there were any seats left. At that point, they told us they were missing 3 people and there were 3 of us left standing by. At 10:36, they decided to have us go wait on the ramp, but still wouldn’t issue us tickets. Finally, they ran down and gave us tickets and told us to get seated quickly! After all that waiting and false starts, we were on!



All went well during the flight, except that we were separated and that my seat was too high for my legs. So by the middle of the flight, my legs were swollen from non-use and excessive pressure from the seat. Then, when we arrived, I went through immigration quickly and easily. But, I guess Jonathan’s beard was too thick and the computer couldn’t match him to his passport photo, so he had to go through a longer line while I waited for our luggage. In fact, at every security checkpoint, Jonathan had to be inspected for some reason or another. I guess he just looked suspicious. 

Jonathan Note: After having men in several states fondle my junk until meeting “resistance”,  I have officially decided to name my left testicle “The Resistance” in honor of our ineffective and overpriced airport security.   


Our luggage never arrived, though. I checked the baggage tracker, and sure enough, it said they were in the LA airport still. No surprise there, though, since we had been admitted at the very last second. They probably didn’t have time to load the luggage. We submitted our delayed baggage claim and booked a flight to Melbourne using the Flight Centre at the airport. Qantas’s policies are a lot better than AA’s. We booked a 4pm flight, as it was inexpensive. But, then when we checked in, we asked if we could be transferred to an earlier flight so we wouldn’t have to spend all day in the airport. They did it with no hesitation or additional fees.

By the time we got our bags, they had so may tags on them!



Of course, we didn’t realize we were arriving a bit too early for our vehicle. The van was supposed to arrive at port on the 16th, which it did. We were told that as soon as we arrive in Melbourne to get our vehicle paperwork processed, which we did. But then we found out it would take several days for the container to be removed from the boat, and then several days for it to be shipped to the warehouse. Then several days for them to unpack it. They won’t schedule the inspection it requires until they unpack the container. So, here we are 7 days after we landed, and still without our van, and no idea when we will receive it.

This has been a bit frustrating for us. The Australian Open (tennis) started on Monday when we arrived, so accommodations have been full and expensive. We were spending $130-$200 per night to stay at hotels, and we had to move every night, as they didn’t have space the next day. That really started wearing on me, with the constant moving, living out of a suitcase, and high costs. We couldn’t even make our own meals to save money. And, we didn’t have our luggage yet. All of our tracking methods kept showing that they still hadn’t found our bags. Finally, on Friday morning, they called our local contact here and told him that our luggage would arrive at 9:30pm. Yay! But, only one piece was delivered at 11:30 pm. The next morning, they called again and said that they saw that our other piece was still there and that we would have it by noon. It arrived around 2pm that afternoon. So, we just finally got all our luggage back on Saturday.



We also started using Airbnb.com to book a room at someone’s house for a lower price. This has helped. Especially since we don’t have to move as often. And, we are hoping that over the next few days, the van will be unpacked and inspected and we can carry on our journey.

Van Packing - An Art Form

Packing a vehicle (especially a campervan) for a long trip is equal parts science and black magic.  Finding the perfect combination of nesting, compressing, and container placement to maximize space, access, and weight distribution is an art unto itself.

Our van contains around 700lbs of gear, clothing, and equipment.  This makes up about 50% of our available payload.  The remainder is food, water, and passenger/driver.

It took us over 5 hours to pack the majority of the contents into the van the first time.  Many false starts, rearranging, swapping containers, etc.  We will likely be doing this all over again once we get the van back, as we have a few new items to add, as well as priority changes to address.  Hopefully AQIS won't ask us to completely unpack the van for our inspection tomorrow.

As a test of our GoPro, I made a timelapse video of packing the van.  Almost 6 hours condensed into less than 3 minutes.

   

Vagaries Abound

By Jen.

You have likely noticed changes to this blog’s name and address.  While we didn’t have a name for the van yet, we (I) really didn’t want to have the blog name tied to a van that we no longer have. So, we have been trying to think of new names for a while (last 2-3 years), without any success. On the days right before our trip to Australia, I kicked it into gear and did lots of research. I found these unique and rare travel words that were inspiring:


One of my favorites that Jonathan nixed right away was coddiwomple. Isn’t it just fun? The words that made it into the final cut were:
  • Yugen
  • Vagary
  • Numinous
  • Vander (combination of van + wander)
  • Annu Mirabilis
  • Fernweh


We obviously chose vagary:
vagary (n.) - An unpredictable instance, a wandering journey; a whimsical, wild or unusual idea, desire, or action

It is from the Latin word, vagārī, meaning “to roam.” Obviously, we are on a wandering journey. But, we are also grasping onto an unusual idea and living out our dreams. You know that old adage about your 3 resources in life? (If not, see the end of the post.) We are trying not fall in that trap and live out our dreams in the now, while we have all the resources at our disposal, instead of waiting for a later that might not happen.

We felt like the term vagary went with along with our motto:
Life is too short to spend all of it behind a desk, paying off debt for things we rarely use. Instead, we choose to make our dreams happen and be intentional. With a craving for travel, we are hitting the roads in our camper van to see the marvels of the world.


3 Resources
You have 3 resources in life: money, time, and energy.
When you are young, you have time and energy, but no money.
When you are middle-aged, you have money and energy, but no time.
When you are old, you have time and money, but no energy.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Blog Changes

G'day  readers.  Since we have a bit of downtime before our van is available, we are making some changes to the blog.

The address will be changing to https://vagariesabound.blogspot.com, The template and appearance will also change some.  If you currently receive updates via email, you should continue to receive them after the change.  In the event you do not, you may need to resubscribe.


Expect a new post sometime next week.
 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Touchdown!

Morning folks, its warm and sunny in Melbourne. We are lounging in our hotel, waiting for van news.

Here is a quick update on the last couple of days.  We arrived in Melbourne on Monday afternoon. After leaving LAX at 11pm on Saturday.  We arrived in Sydney to find our checked bags were lost.  No word on when we will get them, but they are probably still in LAX.

We have cleared the van with customs, and started the quarantine  inspection paperwork.  The ship is being unloaded, so we are waiting for our container to offload to the shippers warehouse for unpacking.  At which point we need to clear AQIS inspection.  Once that is done we can pay the remaining fees, and claim the van.


Other than some mild jetlag (and a cold for me) we are doing well.  We started shifting our sleep schedule before leaving the USA, so we only had a few hours of offset to deal with.  

Saturday, January 14, 2017

In Transit

Quick and dirty update from DFW airport.  We are in the process of getting to LAX where we will hopefully catch a flight to Sydney.  It looks like we will be arriving in Australia on Monday morning.  Of course nothing is certain when we are flying standby.  May the almighty Priority List smile upon us!  The van is in Syndey, soon to be on its way to Melbourne.

See you next on the other side of Pacific.

Monday, January 2, 2017

A Year Ends and Another Begins

By jen
Well, the last few weeks for us have been spent with my family. After spending 3 years in the same town as Jonathan’s family, I felt like it was time to give my family some attention. It has been really good to visit with them and spend some quality time with them. It had been a long time since I had spent much time with my siblings, so they each got the honor of hosting us for a week. ;)  I enjoyed seeing what they do in their normal, daily lives and what their current passions are.

Christmas was hosted by my sister this year. I am older than my sister by 4 years, so most of my most-recent memories of her are from when she was in elementary or middle school while I was in high school. Sometimes I feel like it is almost black-and-white contrast to how she was then to how she is now. She successfully planned 2 days of Christmas celebration that worked well with my family’s quirks, including getting us to the gym to workout. I must give her kudos. It was a good Christmas celebration. Jonathan and I even got some last-minute items we needed for our travels, including a satellite phone so that we can make emergency calls in the middle of nowhere.

Family cat helping with presents!

My brother and I were always close growing up, so much of his current self doesn’t surprise me. I do get surprised by how much of a mediator he is now. Though that shouldn’t be too surprising, he is a middle child. He has become such a good manager. And, I am proud of how much fitness is a part of his life now and how much weight he has lost.

But, as we change from house to house, Jonathan and I have been counting down the days until we arrive in Australia. We are so eager to reach this goal that we have been working on for the past 3 years. We have dedicated most of our waking hours to reach this goal for the past nearly 3 years. It has been both exhausting and rewarding. I feel that this season in our lives has been preparation for the next decade or so. Because of the groundwork we laid down, we should be able to do less prep work next time we decide to travel. It definitely wasn’t my favorite way to spend 3 years, but because of it, I think we will be able to do something more enjoyable and more future-looking when we stop next.

For now, we are planning our trip in Australia. This next year should be a good one. This will be Jonathan’s first time on this continent (my second), and we will both be seeing new places. We will be doing what we love to do. And, Jonathan and I both turn 30 (me first!). While you may think I am crazy, I am actually looking forward to it. I like celebrating my birthday (though I don’t expect anyone else to like celebrating it, so I will only tell you once when my birthday is) and getting a year older. Perhaps I only enjoy it because I normally don’t feel older or more rickety, just more experienced. But, I enjoy life, so why shouldn’t I enjoy getting older? Especially when I plan to live to a healthy 120. Anyways, going to a fun new place is a great way to celebrate my birthday.
   

And, we are hoping that several of our friends and family will make it down here to visit us. Most of them haven’t been to Australia before, so it will be a new adventure for them as well. I know the plane ride (hefty price and long flight time) is one of the biggest hurdles for many of you; but once you can get past that, there are many options for how to spend one’s time down here, such as:
  1. Rent a vacation rental (condo) for your time here (you can always bring friends down with you to share in the cost).
  2. Rent a RV if you want to travel to more places than just one area. Alternatively, you can rent a trailer, and we can pull you (make sure to check with us that the max weight is something we can tow).
  3. Of course, you can always stay in hotels or hostels.
  4. For a longer stay, you can even buy your own vehicle (including RV) down there and sell it when you leave. All a foreigner needs to buy a vehicle down there is an address (even the post office’s or hotel’s).

Remember to give us several weeks head’s up so that we can make sure to meet you (it can take a while to cross the continent).


As each year passes, remember that life is short. Live your life intentionally so that it will be full.