Everything about this experience so far has made me feel slightly off-kilter. I think it has something to do with the fact that most things feel so familiar but completely unfamiliar at the same time. It feels a little like being in a parallel universe and things are a bit topsy-turvy. Things seem normal, but at the same time, reversed and with the occasional bizarre and unexpected twists. It makes everything feel a little surreal.
We have spent a lot of the past month figuring out how to do basic things, such as having working telephone and Internet service and sending our children to school. It has all been trickier than we expected.
Since we moved here in July, we left at the height of Texas summer and arrived in Australian winter. Winter in Sydney is pretty mild, but our house was still uncomfortably cold when we arrived until we cranked up the space heaters. The kids still refuse to acknowledge it’s winter and usually dress for summer in shorts and t-shirts whenever possible. Because it’s winter, the days are shorter and it has been dark by 5:30.
Jet lag wasn’t as bad as I expected. We woke up around 4:30 the first couple days, but it wasn’t too back. I’m still waking up before 6:00am most days and I prefer it that way.
Anyway, so many things are similar, but at the same time the differences are huge. The language, the schools, the animals, Celsius, the 24 hour clock… just the way life works in general. And the driving. I have not done it yet. I am a little embarrassed to admit that I have not driven at all since we got here. I’m still not used to seeing cars driving on the left side of the road. I can’t tell you how many times I have approached the driver’s door thinking it was the passenger door, since the steering wheel is on the opposite side too. I am really terrified of driving, not so much that I will drive on the wrong side of the road, but that I will forget for a split second and look the wrong direction for oncoming cars. Also, people like to honk here and I don’t like to be honked at. My husband has been doing all the driving so far, but, really, we are able to get by on a daily basis by walking. This, in itself is hugely different than our regular life where I spend much of my day driving. Right now, I average at least an hour of walking a day. I will start driving soon and it will give me a little more freedom to move outside of the small radius surrounding our house.
We timed our arrival to coincide with a school holiday so the kids would have a little time to adjust before starting school. Australian school years run from January to September, so we arrived midyear. We arrived on July 5 and kids were supposed to start school on July 19. (They didn’t. More on that later.)
We spent much of the first week or so getting our house set up. The house we are renting here is partially furnished. This means we had a table and chairs, a sofa, and dressers and wardrobes in some of the bedrooms. So, we had to buy our beds and a bunch of other things for our house such as kitchen supplies. This led to an excruciating 5 hour trip to IKEA.
At some point in the haze of stumbling around IKEA and putting together furniture, we decided to squeeze in a short trip before school started. We knew we wanted to visit Uluru and to go ahead and go. I don’t recommend this, by the way. We didn’t get good rates and our first hotel choice was unavailable. But, I am so glad we went. We are not spontaneous people by nature. Who are we? We are people who take spontaneous trips to the Outback, that’s who. See what I mean? Things are just not quite normal here.
If you’re not familiar with Uluru, it’s a huge sandstone monolith in the middle of the desert. It’s also known as Ayers Rock. Ayers Rock is the English name; Uluru is the Aboriginal name. Kata Tjuta, also called The Olgas, is another stunning rock formation nearby. It was a 2-3 hour flight from Sydney to Ayers Rock. It was pretty cold while we were there. The lows were in the 30s with a high of about 50 degrees. But it was clear and sunny and the skies were a stunning shade of blue. The colors were spectacular and change with the light throughout the day.
Uluru is really fascinating and looks so other-worldly. Uluru is a sacred place for the indigenous people and they consider it disrespectful to climb it. Apparently, tourists used to climb it all the time, but now they don’t. Interestingly, they don’t ban climbing Uluru, but they ask very politely that you show some respect and refrain from climbing. We took a guided tour, and the guide said that climbing might be banned in the next couple years. For now, it’s more like, “We don’t think you should climb. It’s disrespectful. But, you can. If you want to be rude. We’re not saying you can’t. We want you to want to do the right thing.”