Monday, December 29, 2008

When the Going Gets Weird, the Weird Turn Pro

Bryce and I headed west along the Great Ocean Road, going toward Warrnambool. The first part of the road leaving Port Campbell followed the ocean cliffs, where there were a series of spectacular rock formations.

Then the road turned inland. I was fiddling with the camera when Bryce announced that he had just seen a kangaroo sitting by the side of the road. This totally bummed me out, as I really wanted to see some native Australian wildlife in their native Australian habitats. As we continued west, Bryce saw a country lane turn-off and said "let's go here!" so we randomly started down the narrow drive. All of a sudden we passed something marsupial in the grass! I was so excited, we turned around and I saw what turned out to be a wallaby hopping across the road. It sat in the grass and stared at us for a bit.

We continued onward to Warranmbool, the road dipping and rising in soft rolling hills. A few kilometers outside of town Bryce saw a dome with a cross on top and remarked with a bit of surprise that he was seeing a Russian Orthodox Church in the dstance. As we got closer, we encountered this structure, visible across hill and dale for many a kilometer:

Obviously that silver ball is not a Russian Orthodox Church. We navigated closer and saw that it was located atop a trouser factory. But why? And especially why the cross? As we drove around town, just looking to see what was there, it seemed to us that there was an inordinate number of churches. There seemed to be a dozen steeples in the distance, a church on nearly every corner. Had we stumbled into some kind of hotbed of Australian religious expression? And why when we cruised by the Temperance Hall was it closed?

Some more random wandering brought us to a beautiful ANZAC memorial. Pretty much every town in Australia has one, honoring and remembering the forces who fought and fell at Gallipoli in World War I (see the film, it is amazing and heartbreaking).

This is where stuff started getting strange. The memorial was in the middle of a roundabout, and we noticed a bright yellow flower power van going around and around while the driver ground the gears pretty seriously. A few moments of observation revealed that the youth of Warranmbool appear to cruise the streets for fun and entertainment. After making some comments about disaffected youth, we hopped back in the car to search for dinner. Along the way we encountered the yellow van again, this time receiving roadside assistance from a tall young guy (it seems all Aussie guys are tall).

From there we decided that Mexican food was our best bet, so we stopped inside Taco Bill and discovered that it is a chain, with franchise opportunities available all over Australia. Apparently Mexican food is kind of new and exotic in the Australian countryside, because the place mats at Taco Bill included handy pronunciation guides to the various dishes. You know that thing made up of corn chips, melted cheese, salsa, beans, guac etc? Yep, that's right, NAR-choes. And you can wash them down with a liqueur-flavored margarita -- they were offered some of the flavors you'd expect, and then some exotics like Sambuca or creme de menthe. Creme de menthe and tequila, it boggles my mind. I had a passionfruit margarita, which was quite delicious with actual fresh passionfruit puree in it.

After dinner we started the drive back to Port Campbell. At this point the cross on top of the silver ball was lit up, and it kind of floated like a holy UFO on the outskirts of town. The drive back through the dark countryside on a moonless night, roads lined with gum (eucalyptus) trees and the ever-present danger of a 'roo hopping out of the woods and wrecking our car (worse than hitting a deer), was like something out of a gothic horror movie.

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