After losing all of our clothing to a bunch of wild wallabies on Kangaroo Island -but only because of our own fault of course, how can we blame the charming marsupials in our yard? - the lady of the house called from Adelaide to say that she remembered a trunk in the second bedroom full of quilts and old tee shirts we were welcomed to, since we had no clothes left for the week. A welcomed help.
I had entertained the thought of drying my only bra in the oven, as Aussies don't use microwaves - not that I usually dry my underwear in them, but I could not set it outside to dry because of the wallabies, and frankly, I am the kind of person who likes clean underwear for each new day. So I was left with few options: the toaster or the oven? Nah, I'll just wear it wet.
So I was now standing on a red dirt road in the South of Australia wearing an oversized tee shirt as a minidress with my precious Timberland boots - and in my wet bra. The shirt said on the front: "Kangaroo Island Beer Night Out 1987" - and on the back "I am not as think as you drunk I am". This worn by a former teen model used to roam the runway fashion shows of Paris.
No Australian seemed to mind my demi outfit and none ever questioned it. No photos were taken, so don't ask. At least we had some clean clothes. The owner of the house even said we could keep them, she felt guilty about the wallabies' misbehavior. My daughter picked a shirt reading Mount Rushmore on it; I guess it was a leftover from another American visitor to Charlie Bates.
We were on the way to visit the koalas' sanctuary of Kangaroo Island. We started walking on the steep road by our cottage-for-the-week, and after a few minutes, a gracious local swiftly stopped in his pick-up truck to ask where we were heading. I said the koalas' refuge, and he said he was not going that far south, but could get us closer by five kilometers.
I sat in the front while my daughter hopped in the back, which had no seats, and thanked him, with no replies. His truck was so heavily caked in mud that the only outside view from where I was seated was the semi-clean swipe mark of the windshield wipers. The rest was not transparent as it should have been. To make casual conversation, I jokingly said: "you don't use the carwash much, do you?" to this, the gentleman responded: "What's a car wash? " - and that was the end of our conversation for the rest of the trip.
The Dead Kangaroos.
We arrived at the center of town and spotted a van with the letters Koalas Center on its flank. This was our ride. The ochre-colored dirt road to get there was littered by multiple bodies of dead kangaroos, but since nobody in the van was saying anything, I shut up about it. Maybe they would be offended if I was to question why the poor animals were left on the side of the tracks. Those are big things and it's very hard to divert your eyes from their presence, there is one at least every mile, or 1.8 kilometers as they say here.
The high road followed the über blue sea and from our vantage point, we could see the magnificent coast, the coves, the majestic trees in flowers, the multitude of red and pink birds, the orange cactus and the mean-looking sharp bushes. Then we got more on the inside of the island with the one road that circles around. The bus fare was about AU$10 but the driver said that since I was wearing a local tee shirt, we did not have to pay for the ride. It certainly looked like our vintage attires were approved. Here is a good secret tip for fellow travelers: wear a local tee shirt and don't pay for local transportation; I think Lonely Planet should put that in their guide.
After the bumpy ride on the kangaroo-littered red road, we stopped at the wildlife sanctuary to meet the koalas. After stepping out of the van, and walking for a few minutes, I was still wondering where the koalas were, when the guide told me to look up, and here they were! The tall eucalyptus trees were covered in them, like pods of furs hanging from the limbs!
At the little visitors' center, really a wooden shack open on all sides with zero facilities in it, we asked if we could hold a koala, a dream experience for me to have. The wildlife expert lent me a sweatshirt to cover my bare arms (and maybe the illustrated tee shirt, although I don't think the koala would have mind.)
I was given Damien, a 25-pounds hefty fellow who immediately clanged to my body as if I was going to drop him. But, no, apparently they are gripping animals, and this is the only way they stay safely hanging in tree tops. Its nails were frightfully long and curved; my daughter took pictures where I was not smiling. He was not really hurting me, but he was scaring me a little - his warm and heavy body, his spiky fur, the enormous paws and shards were really impressive.
He was really quiet and immobile. I never had such a large animal in my arms - aside for my black lab when I took him to the vet and he refused to walk; but this one was a different kind of animal, a wild animal, nothing about him felt domesticated, he was only allowing me to hold him for a few minutes.
It was a much unexpected feeling, very ancestral and primal. Of course, this being a koala walk, I was being delusional if I was to believe this koala was a wild animal, after being held by gazillions of tourists in the span of his life -he was just probably patiently ignoring the fact that a human was having a soul-changing experience just carrying him. Life is cruel.
After 15 minutes or so, the guide told me he had to take him back to his tree, because if he was to fall asleep in my arms, there was no detaching him from me until tomorrow when he wakes. I agreed. Whoa! That was draining and exhilarating, my daughter was a lot less fazed with the entire experience, like she had hold koalas in her arms all her life; but this was a great undergo for me, one that no Labrador will ever replicate.
To be continued.