Down with the big city. Bright lights don’t draw me in. I’m not a moth. I’m not a fly. Zap me with sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, not Gucci or Prada or Culture Kings.
Well, actually, bright lights are pretty nice now and then. But after a while, the bug-zapping effect becomes too much. Before my wings become too singed with lightning powder and flame, I flutter off to recharge and lick my wounds.
Bonica and I had spent three days in the centre of Melbourne, running about like chickens with our heads removed (and replaced with constantly snapping cameras). We’d had our fill and we were both ready to move onwards.
A Spaniard and an Adelaidian coming to Melbourne would normally mean staying at an inner city hotel or hostel for a couple of days before Skybussing it back to the airport. But that would not be the case this time. We had a car. We had the power. We could go anywhere we wanted.
First stop: THE MOUTH OF MADNESS.
Guided by the omniscient eye of Google, we navigated out of the web of Melbourne and south, south toward the Saint.
St. Kilda was… quieter than I expected. Perhaps owing to the winter chill that was still hanging in the air, or the overwhelming rush of Melbourne’s cultural flow, we found the area quite deserted. The “beach” (strip of sand washed up against a cement barricade) was filled to the brim with three couples and an awkwardly half-nude man.
After meditating on this grey beach, we moved on to hunt food. Instead of food we found noise and irritating dust, Acland Street was being torn apart. The entire length of the street had been torn up and fenced off as pounding, drilling machines tore into the hard earth. In a panic, we dove into a nearby store to find refuge… and discovered a hippy heaven.
Really, I have to rave about Eclectico for a bit. Greeted by a cheery gal and free soy chai lattes, Bonica and I felt suddenly at home. It’s funny and kind of gross to say you feel comfortable in a store, because capitalism, but Eclectico really does seem the place to settle down. Record collections, hippy-beads and pants, even an outdoor area for chillin’. Just nice. Real top-notch. Go visit and give them money, because that’s the sort of business we should be encouraging.
With “bustling” St. Kilda conquered, it was time to keep moving. The road opened up again as he headed East. Buildings became shorter, squatter. The horizon widened and then contracted again. Buildings gave way to trees.
“They’re so big!” Bonica pressed her face against the foggy window to stare upwards. First ferns and gums, then mountain ashes. They exploded upwards like spears or the broken bones of giants.
“What’s this place called again?”
“The Dandenong Ranges! We’re in Fern Gully.” I replied. “I remember a cartoon about fairies and smoke monsters called Fern Gu… it doesn’t matter.”
We were heading up the mountain to our next accommodation: The Loft in the Mill, the most fucking ridiculously romantic hotel in the world. We arrived to find a DVD copy of Love Actually on the bedside table and a jacuzzi accompanied by all manner of fancy, tiny soaps. After a quick trip to the spectacular, near-by lookout, we retired quickly and with purpose.
The night in The Mill was the single most magical in Bonica’s whole two month visit. It was as if the entire season revolved around the silken sheets and four post bed.
Good night, please do not disturb.
The next morning, it rained. And it was stunning. Perfect weather had followed our car around for the whole week. The sun rose at the right time, and the rain fell when it needed. The morning fog hugged the tops of the trees to the point where you couldn’t see their tips. Silhouetted strands of bark draped from tree to tree like rigging. A kookaburra sat on a branch above a lake, patiently waiting out the rain. A Spaniard and an Adelaidian walked in silent awe through the mist.
Eventually, the West called us back. We’d made it as far east as we possibly could on the weekend, and it was time to turn back. The trek back across the city was the most painful part, hours and hours passed before we even hit Glenelg. But after that, the horizon cracked and spilt open again in a tremendous show. The pastures turned spring gold. We were looking for the Great Ocean Road… and almost missed it.
Our dramatic trip back began with a stop at a country gas station. A bizarre, white-board sign out front quoted Dostoyevsky. “Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others.” Who knows why this little pit-stop had such a high-brow philosophy, but I can dig it.
Anglesea marks the beginning of the west-ward journey along the Great Ocean Road, and so we blasted through it without stopping to look. We had a hell of a long way to go and only half a day to get there. It seemed easy, seemed doable. God, I was wrong. I was so wrong.
The trip down the country’s most famous road was breathtaking. The waves broke upon sharp and winding cliffs. Ragged hills and broken rocks and wild shrub line the edge of Australia. Outwards, to the south-west, is endless sea, bright and blue. The road cut through mountains, forests and pastures, before diving back to the ocean.
At sunset we arrived at The Apostles. The silent sentinels stood resolute, powerful, but oh-so-fragile. A crowd of tourists, drawn by the sunset view, lined the walkways to gawp, gawk and selfie. An obnoxiously buzzing drone tore apart the serenity (how’s the serenity?), but it was quickly downed by a bunch of angry looks.
The sun fell, and my anxiety about the road ahead rose, almost threatening to spoil the moment.
But Bonica… she’s the mindful one, she’s the wise and calm and logical one.
“We can do it. It’s fine! Look how far we’ve come already! And just in time. It couldn’t be more perfect.”
And she was right. Of course, she was right. You can’t let the road ahead spoil the view of the rocks in front of you, so to speak.
And so, finally, we drove. The tale of that night is a story in its own right, but suffice to say: it was a hell of a drive. We turned off from the Great Ocean Road and dove inland, heading straight for our beach-side accommodation in Robe, South Australia. As the night took over and the cars disappeared, we were left to fend completely for ourselves on death-trap roads. We sped, a hundred kilometres an hour, down these dark highways, with kangaroos threatening to commit suicide on the windshield, taking us with them. Kangaroos are sick bastards. I counted twelve of ‘em. Luckily, they stayed on their turf. They knew the team they were messing with, I’m sure.
“I just can’t stop thinking of something.” Bonica said, a slight tremor in her voice. We rounded another corner, then accelerated slowly again.
“Oh, it’s nothing.”
“You know, there’s this ghost story, about ‘the lady of the curve’…”
“Stop. I don’t wanna hear anymore. Here, let me just turn up this album here…”
Despite the odds, we did actually make it. I mean, I lived through it. I think. We even got to stop in Mount Gambier and stare into the pitch-black sinkhole for ten minutes before the cold got to us. We made it to Robe, as the blackened sea smashed against the shore, and the car huffed and puffed its last reserves of petrol. We made it, by slapping each other awake and singing loudly to our favourite albums. We made it through the sparkly, cliché power of love.
I couldn’t stand up straight after getting out of the driver’s seat, but that was alright. All I needed to do was rinse myself under a hot shower and go to bed, ignoring the creaks and whistles of the ancient house.
That next day, the Electric Holy Road trip came to a close. After being blessed by Father Wind on the rocky coast of Robe, buffeted by salty spray, we rocketed onwards and upwards to Adelaide. Again, miraculously, the weather turned perfect. At every point we were met by the perfect weather for its time and place. It was as if a screenplay had been written with lots of attention paid to making the adventure as atmospheric as possible.
And so we rolled into the Adelaide Hills, from stage-rear, with spring sun bronzing the hills and a gunmetal cloud pouring across the sky. Sheep moved like little white clouds, farting and spitting, no doubt, across golden green. The highway began to expand, first one lane, then another, then another, and soon we found ourselves back home.
Melbourne’s great and all, and the road is an experience in itself, but at the end of the day, its the return that matters. “There and Back Again”, by Bonica and James. Sounds like a pretty good adventure to me.