Poona.

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Our next big adventure was for 10 days at Poona. Of course, we checked the calendar for school holidays, to make sure we did not end up with 30,000 out of control kids everywhere we turned.   Last time we tried that Derek and I ended up on a school bus bound for a camp where we never were fully accepted.  It scarred both of us.  We picked a safe kids-free date and we were off.   I think Derek purposefully picks places with strange names just because he can. Poona!  This was another treat for me, 10 days by the beach!

Actually, we went because we needed to try out a few more things before we left for the big trip. It is getting so close now that I am starting to get excited. Derek has done a great deal of research and he keeps showing me pictures and things of some of the places we are going. What can you say when you hear your husband prefacing so many conversations with things like, “I know you said you liked ….” or “I remembered you were interested in ….” from conversations that we had 12 years ago?

We had solved the gosh awful taste that the new water tank added to our water.  It was this plastic chemical try not to gag taste that after you had accidentally swallowed a big gulp of it without thinking you could never recover from.  Even the smell of it running into the sink when Derek washed his hand at the other end of the caravan made me gag. So something had to be done.  Yay internet and yay me.  Wading through incredibly expensive workarounds and doomsayers I found my kind of people.  Red Cordial! Dump the bottle in the tank, fill with water, let sit, drain, rinse and voila!!  It worked.  Not a trace of any taste and we have lovely red flowers on the one bush in the yard, where once they were white.  We also have hyperactive grass.  

Derek was also concerned with weight.  There are strict rules for weight allowances by the caravan manufacturer, for the hitch, and the truck.  The roads have weight limits and everything is highly policed with very expensive fines.  You are not allowed to drive on until you remove the extra weight.  If you are in the middle of nowhere you can imagine that could be quite a problem.  So Derek filled the water tanks, loaded the tools, the equipment, filled the jerry cans with fuel and made sure we stocked the inside with all the necessary things.  Our local weigh scale checked our caravan, the hitch, and the truck and Fluffy passed with flying colours.  We were well under and Derek was hopeful that my extra clothes couldn’t possibly weigh more than a couple hundred pounds which would still keep us well under.  Pfft…. men!  They just don’t understand women very well.

Once weighed, we were off. Poona is only a couple of hours away from home.  We live in such a beautiful spot with so many options,  no reason not to enjoy what we have in our backyard.  The park was right on the ocean, not even a road to cross this time. I think we booked the best site in the whole park – just another perk of a husband who plans things well in advance and does his research.  There were trees all around and we were right in front of the grassed area that led to the public barbeques and the playground. Whoever planned the park had put a lot of thought into the design. Adjacent to where we were, was a public access for the ocean and the park. They had located the eating area close to the parking lot, away from the caravans. The playground was off in the other corner. It meant that we had a maximum buffer to allow us privacy and also meant that no-one had to walk through our area to get to the amenities as the other accesses made much more sense. It may seem trifling but these things matter, especially if you are staying for some time.  No-one wants to be social 24/7 and if your site is open to constant foot traffic, your privacy is limited.  Someone else is always wanting to stop and chat and then you have to resort to slingshots.  The way we were set up in this park allowed for each caravan to have options according to their social thermometers.

The ocean was just beyond the grass. We had no-one next to us on one side and on the other was a couple with a cute little boy who was very talkative and curious but extremely polite. The first thing he did was march up to Derek and ask for his name. Then he put his hand out and introduced himself. He wanted to know every detail of what Derek was doing as he levelled the caravan and hooked up hoses and electrical cords. He was so well spoken and so polite that we were not at all bothered by his enthusiasm. He had lovely parents who were quick to redirect him if they thought he was becoming a nuisance.

Once again our caravan drew a fair amount of interest. People like the way it looks. They are impressed with how big it is and they have heard lots of good things about Supreme. It is a great feeling to get to this point, just before we leave, and have complete confidence in the caravan. Fluffy is a year old at this point. Wow, how the time flies.

The park was quiet and beautiful. There were so many trees around us and all of them very different from one another.  Some of them had this ghost-like quality to them created by their white, barkless trunk and their gnarled and twisted branches.  It created this kind of odd feeling. I felt like I was looking at a Stephen King type movie, filmed in Florida. Either something really strange lived in the forest or strange things happened to people who went into it. It was as if it harboured some kind of a secret that all the locals knew and the tourists fell victim to. I was not going to be a victim. I made excuses so Derek walked into the trees several times. It was only when he returned every time, without an extra appendage or having been taken over by some alien being, that I felt like I could maybe safely navigate through them on my way to the beach.  Our first night, I was sitting outside having a glass of wine and the creepiness started to envelop me.   Right on cue, strange people started wandering, zombie like, into the forest. It was as if some voice, only they could hear, had summoned them and they put down what they were doing and walked out of their caravans and went into the forest. They were all in various stages of dress. Some women wore dresses that looked more like nighties and perhaps were. Some men wore a singlet with shorts that I swore were their boxers, and perhaps were. They finished off the look with black socks and sandals. Some men were shirtless and shoeless and wore shorts that were sliding off their backside that had disappeared with age and the faded shorts were weighted down with the large protruding belly in the front. Some women had their hair in curlers and others had not bothered with curlers or a brush for some time, making one wonder if perhaps there was an asylum nearby. Some carried little dogs in their arms.   Some had dogs that dutifully followed while others had dogs that undutifully ran wherever they wished. Most carried a plastic bag of some sort that they held limply in one hand that would fill with the wind as they walked.  Even those without dogs had an empty bag like they might need it for gathering severed limbs or tossed eyeballs or something.  Many carried fishing rods meant to distract us from the bucket in the other hand that was filled with other strange looking tools. One lady who appeared that night was out several more times while we were there.  She liked to wander through the forest in a slip with a large bottle of alcohol in her hand.  Virgina Wolf, wandering into my horror movie set!  The scene became more unsettling as it grew darker.  There were shadows and people wandering without any purpose or strength and meanwhile the forest … just stood there, freaking me out.  Perhaps they were trying to scare us off. Perhaps the forest had turned them all into well-trained walk-ons for any future horror film that might one day be shot in the area.  Work can be scarce in a small town. Derek turned off the outside light and said I needed to come in and lie down.  He corked the wine and took the glass from my hand.

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Everyone fished. They would walk across with their gear and march into the water which was very shallow. People nodded at one another and stopped and talked bait and shared where they saw someone with a fish. When they headed out they are chatty and hopeful. They were protective of their bait and reluctant to share what they had.  They evaluated your rod and your chances and then the call of the fish could no longer be denied and they would head out. Men never stand next to one another when they are fishing. It appeared they only let one woman at a time into the ocean. I figured it had something to do with the “no talking rule” when fishing, and the fact that two women together just can’t help themselves. At least that is why my grandfather told me I could never come out on the boat with him and my brother when they were fishing – because he always insisted there was already another woman in a boat . . .  somewhere . . .  on the lake. I think oceans have much stricter rules.

Coming back in, many fishermen were not as talkative. Their ability to talk to other human beings appears to have something to do with the amount and the size of the fish they did or did not catch. If they caught something, they loved to stop and show everyone. Of course, they also talked, in greater detail, about the ones that got away. Those fish were much, much bigger. They would share all the details about how they would get that one tomorrow and try to encourage Derek by telling him exactly where the fish was so Derek could have a go. They even shared their bait.  I asked Derek if fish were stupid. He wanted to know why I would assume that. I can’t help it, it just seems to me that if you were swimming around and seeing your friends pulled out of the water, never to be seen again and then you chomp down on a tasty morsel and get this steel barb hooked in your mouth and fight like heck and manage to get away … well with an entire ocean to swim in, why would you hang around the same area? I thought fish swam. Do they swim around in circles or can they swim on the spot like we do running? It didn’t matter – neither Derek nor the people ever caught the fish so clearly, they underestimated the fish’s intelligence. Go fish!!  Or wait, we are talking men, right? And directions?  I bet Derek went to the wrong spot and the fish actually was there waiting. Forget the “go fish” part.

One man, who lived in the park, took a real shine to Derek and he gave him tips and shared his bait with him even when he was on his way to fish.  He would go out every morning and every night to fish. He seemed to rely on his fishing abilities to feed himself and he did have some real success. There seemed to be quite a few men who were living on their own, in their caravans. He had fixed up a little yard and a porch and he spent his day however he wanted. I worried about him on the days he did not catch a fish.  What if he did not have anything to eat for supper?  I write stories in my head for all the people I meet and he was all alone.  His family had forgotten about him and eventually just lost any contact.  He has grandchildren he has never met who would love him if they met him but he sits alone and misses his kids and cries himself to sleep at night.  I had such a hard time those days he came back without any fish … not enough to invite him for dinner or anything . . .  but I did feel sad.

There seemed to be one other requirement for many of the people who lived there. So many of them had maybe 3 teeth in their whole mouth. I’ll wait while you try to make sense of that and figure it out.  You can’t, but it won’t stop you from trying.  Was it the water? The forest? A fashion statement? The cost of passage into the forest?

I had a lot of time alone on this trip.  Alone.  Just me and the recorked wine….

The locals all fished along our beach.  I wrote my name in the sand and put Derek’s t-shirt on a stick.   It counts as a flag.  I claimed the beach.  It is ours now.  They used the park a lot.  They shopped at the little store attached to the office and used the phone booth.  People walked way out when the tide was low and used yabbie pumps and gathered crabs and other shellfish.  Everyone seemed to have a favourite spot.  People unloaded their boats into the oceans and paddled around in all kinds of smaller boats among the mangroves while others just walked into the water and cast their rods and hoped to catch something.  Anything is possible when you fish.

The mangroves are trees and shrubs that are able to grow in harsh coastal conditions in the brackish water (saline and fresh). They contain a complex filtration and root system that allows them to convert salt water into fresh. They are hugely important to the environment because they help prevent erosion from storms and tides by holding onto the dirt with their complex root systems. They maintain water quality by filtering the pollutants and trapping sediments from the land. They are home to all kinds of fish, crabs and shrimps, etc. They provide food and offer protection for fish to use them as nurseries. They really are incredibly unique and interesting and not something I had ever experienced before I came to Australia.

Where you have mangroves, you quite often find dugongs and I was really hopeful to see one or two of those, but not as excited about the crocodiles which they warned were in the area. However, Derek calmed my immediate hysteria with the assurance that the sign we saw was like the bear signs in the Canadian Rockies. They have to warn that bears can be in the area. It does not mean the bears are living right around the sign. Elk do not cross where the signs say “Elk Crossing.” It is a general warning. If there were crocs that were going to hunt us and carry us off in our sleep, the sign would tell us that crocodiles live there and can kill or maim us. They would say, “no swimming, do not walk along the edge, do not clean fish,” etc.  This sign was a general warning.

We did have a perentie that showed up – in the forest of course. Derek called some of the kids who were playing and asked if they wanted to see it. One little boy came over and said, “Oh cool, a goanna.” Derek corrected him and said, “No, it is a perentie.” His mother joined him a few seconds later and said, “Oh, it is just a goanna,” and she walked away with her son. A perantie is the fourth largest lizard living on the earth and are actually pretty cool, except for the part where, if you stand still, they might think you are a tree and try to climb up you. So, if you are ever confronted by one, Derek’s advice is not to worry, just do not act like a tree. I’ll give you a moment to figure out how you do that. I find a lot of the survival instructions shared by Australians to be schizophrenic contradictions of one another.  Try standing still, acting not afraid and no acting like a tree all in the same breath.  Good luch with survival.  Peranties can be pretty big. I asked what the treatment was for a perantie wound, like are you supposed to pee on it or something like you do with a jellyfish sting? He told me “no” and cautioned me not to EVER pee on him, no matter how bad any wound was. Good to know because I was holding on for fear that I would not be able to produce pee on command should an emergency arise.   I asked him what peranties eat and he said other smaller animals, birds, insects etc. I asked him if they would eat one of the dogs running around. He said maybe, if they cut the dog up into pieces for him. You can see how helpful Derek is and why David Attenborough was chosen instead of him for narrating the nature shows.

Apart from the sand flies that ate Derek alive and never even landed on me, it was perfect. I tried to explain it to Derek. I am Canadian. We are a peaceful people. It is a gift. We all make peace, everywhere we go . . .  even with the sandflies.   Then I handed him the bug spray and made him go stand in the forest to spray it on.  I also made him wear oven mitts to bed at night and tried to connect the dots with a sharpie one evening when I was bored.  I had the beginnings of a really cool cyclops kind of dragon looking cat person before he smacked the sharpie out of my hand.

Derek golfed a couple of days, and he went fishing. I like it when we stay in one spot and Derek actually gets some real time to just unwind and do what he wants to. There is nothing that has to be done. If he wants to just sit and read, he can. He can go for long hikes and explore. He can have a glass of wine, or a beer, and not worry about driving. He spent a lot of time fishing. With all the mangroves, it was a perfect area for kayaking. He would get his kayak off the truck roof and carry it and all his fishing gear down to the water’s edge. Some people would probably just see an old fool heading off to try and fish but I see him as my Viking, paddling bravely off to find new worlds so he could claim them for team Appleford.  It doesn’t matter that he didn’t catch anything.  He talked to a turtle that came to the surface to have a chat.   He held a crab in his hand and let it go. He is a Snow White kind of Viking.  A magnet to all the wildlife and small children.  Such a gentle man.

However, “Leif” is going deaf.  He could not hear me calling for him from the other end of the caravan one evening when he was lying down, with his good ear buried in the pillow. I asked him what would happen if someone had broken into the caravan? What was I supposed to do to protect myself seeing as he would never hear me screaming? He handed me the flashlight and told me to keep it on the bedside table. If someone broke in I could turn it on as the box said it was 1,000 watt LED flashlight and brighter than the sun. He assured me it would blind him. How do men come up with this stuff? And why does anyone need a flashlight that shines that bright? I bet there are animals and insects and birds all over the world wandering around the forests with either white canes or seeing eye dogs because of that stupid flashlight. I asked Derek, “what if some guy breaks in and wants to kill us?” He answered, “well, don’t waste the flashlight battery then – if someone is determined to kill us, it will happen. Not a whole lot we can do about that. ” When he could see my face which was conveying something that suggested I thought he was an idiot, he added, ” I would be upset if someone killed you, so it is probably better that I sleep through that kind of trauma anyway.”

Apart from my Viking needing some remedial training at Viking School, we had fun. We had perfect, beautiful weather. The week after, the area was hit with non-stop torrential rain … and then cyclone Debbie hit. Wow, we were lucky to have been able to enjoy it when we did and so very sad that the area suffered some real damage.

Poona is definitely a place we will return to.  In addition to everything else, they have all the amenities one expects at a good caravan park.  They can accommodate any size of caravan.  The pool, bathroom, showers, laundry areas, etc are centrally located and clean and well cared for.  People in the park, while we were there, were very well behaved.  They also have cabins that are nicely located and very well cared for.  We really enjoyed this trip.  Next venture will be the big one.  Stay tuned!

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