We have a skink in the house.
It might be a gecko, as I thought on my first identification of the tiny lizard, but then its coloring, eyes and stump of a tail – dropped off in the heat of pursuit, I assume – made me think otherwise. But that was a conclusion come to only after I shrieked and leapt away from its perch on the rug beneath the livingroom coffee table.
This is not Stockholm, my friends.
Many of you know that Matt and I embarked on a round-the-world tour back in November. We landed in California, spent a few weeks there, and then headed for Canada for the Christmas holiday with Matt’s family. All in all, we ate a lot, spent quality time with our families (though never enough), and soaked in a lot of sunshine we would be missing in Sweden. While our stay in California was warm compared to home in Stockholm, Calgary was a cold shock: our last week, temperatures were hovering around minus 20 degrees C.
We left Calgary midafternoon on Thursday, 27 Dec. After a transfer in Vancouver and a 13-hour flight, we touched down in Auckland on Saturday, 29 Dec. For a while I puzzled over that lost day, considering angles of the sun, multiple crossings of the International Date Line, and a few other details, but there you have it: Friday, 28 Dec. 2012, is missing in our lives. And that’s okay.
After another 3 hours in the air, we arrived in Brisbane, where we will be staying for the next few months. Matt has an exchange on with the local university here in Queensland, and I plan to look around a little and do a little of my own work.
But first, we need to get our bearings. We took the train from the airport into downtown Brisbane, which looks a lot like Calgary: a new city with a high skyline, surrounded by suburbs under a big sky. But it’s about 50 degrees C warmer, and humid. Both of us are sporting really curly hair at the moment.
Our leafy neighborhood lies on the red line to the south of the city center and the meandering river that splices the city in two. It smells lovely here, and the sounds seep into our basement-level apartment of small gray mourning doves with crested heads, and the chirring of what must be cicadas, and lilting songs from birds I want to call kookaburras (I know that’s wrong – kookaburras are large kingfishers that laugh – but it’s a lovely tune that makes me think of the famous folk song about the gum tree).
There are bright orange-red trumpet flowers, bamboo and mesquite-looking trees, quaint Victorian-ish houses where people live on the second story and have porches that remind Matt of Victoria in B.C. And people driving on the wrong side of the road in four-wheel-drive cars with mud funnels to keep their windshields clean.
We fought off jetlag yesterday by running errands. A mall with a Coles grocery store is about two blocks away, alongside a strip mall that has a pizza place, espresso shop and Liquorland – trifecta! After Sweden and Canada, I imagined that Australia might also have stricter purchasing laws here for alcohol, but it turns out that you can buy your beer and wine every day of the week, just not at the grocery. Buying beer and wine was the beginning of our education on pricing here Down Under: Beer is wickedly expensive, and wine is cheap, which makes me think that Australians like their beer. But then, we also bought two delicious Scotch steaks for about $10 (Australian dollars are on par with the US dollar at the moment), or 65 SEK. Cheap. Cheap cheap cheap. And my fresh whole milk, called full here, cost A$1.25 for a liter (it’s about a dollar in Canada, where they call it homo for homogenized, which unfortunately amuses me).
In addition to food, we stocked up on some other odds and ends for our place – scissors for the kitchen, a funnel for making coffee, bars of soap. Our basement digs are a bit divey, so we also got some prints from the Dollar Store at the mall, including a pastiche of Banksy graffiti and a close up of peppers. We’re off again today in search of sim cards for our phones, and we’re talking about getting some hanging house plants (or maybe just repotting some from the verdant summer growth outside).
We’re going to be here for a while. Unfortunately, that mindset has allowed me to put off making plans or actually really learn anything about Australia before landing here, which may have been misguided.
On the other hand, in my minimal preparation for this trip (which meant starting to read Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country on the plane, and hence the title of this post), I managed to develop a huge phobia of spiders, insects and whatever else might poison me here. And the skink made me want to sit with my feet up off the floor, and maybe my bum levitated a few inches off the couch. But so far, our first day was entirely pleasant, with the heat not so bad and only the threat of forgetting to look right for oncoming traffic instead of left on our forays to the mall. (Oh shoot, maybe that’s supposed to be to the left? I’ll figure that out as soon as possible, I assure you, gentle reader.)
And I am coming to terms with having a skink as our housemate. I’m hoping this unassuming, nontoxic little lizard will eat all the bugs!