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I lose track a lot these days of what day it is, what date it is. Change is becoming the norm.

From Coffs Harbour we went north to Mullumbimby, near Byron Bay to stay with a wonderful long-time friend from Canada. A huge thank you to Alandra for having us, even though it was an extremely busy time in her life. Somehow she made some time for us in the midst of her hectic schedule.

Mullumbimby and area is hippie heaven, like stepping back into the late 60’s/early 70’s, perfectly exemplified by The Channon Markets, held every other Sunday. What fun!

This guy is as Australian as they come, with a broad Aussie accent. He makes and sells hot samosas. I love what’s on his T-shirt – “CURRIED AWAY” and “GET IT INDIA” 🙂

From the markets we drove to Protesters Falls, in the World Heritage Nightcap National Park. We were told it was a long way, but the sign said 15km and we thought that’s not so far, so off we headed. It was a long way. The unpaved road was narrow and bumpy and slow and dark with the foliage of the dense rainforest. When we finally arrived we found one little sunny spot on the grass for a very late quick picnic lunch, and then did the short hike up to the quite spectacular falls. My photo doesn’t do it justice, but at least it gives some idea of what it’s like. It was worth the trip, though the drive back to Mullumbimby, hours along twisty narrow dangerous roads, wasn’t so much fun.

This whole area is known as the Northern Rivers, and like most of the east coast of Australia is one long string of mostly empty beautiful white sand beaches. During our stay we went to Lennox Head, Brunswick Heads, and Byron Bay, had lunch with another friend from Canada at Ocean Shores, and went for a hike along Rayners Track in the Koonyum Range, made some new friends, and went to a fairy party!

Lennox Head

View from Koonyum Range

The following picture, taken at Ocean Shores, reminded me of a childhood rhyme:
Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree, merry merry king of the bush is he
Laugh kookaburra, laugh kookaburra, gay your life must be

Kookaburra sits on the electric wire, if he’s not careful he’ll catch on fire
Cry kookaburra, cry kookaburra, sad your life must be.

This kookaburra, however, seems perfectly fine!

Our favourite place is Byron Bay, not least because it has it’s own micro-climate and was warmer than anywhere else we went. We love the energy and atmosphere there, and the beaches, and cafes, and a community that produces this kind of creativity:

It is surfing heaven

Next stop Sydney, and staying for a day with long-time family friends. It was so good to see them, to stay in their beautiful home, to have some long and interesting discussions over dinner, to enjoy David’s fabulous cooking, and to be chauffeured to the airport at 6am. Thank you Lynn and David!

We flew to Hong Kong and overnighted there. We just had time to see a little of the city the next morning. It was enough to make us want to go back and explore more.

Riding the cable car up to The Peak

On the Star Ferry

And from Hong Kong, after four and a half months away, we flew back to Vancouver: eleven hours and a bumpy ride. I was scared on the flight. I’ve always been scared of flying, but not enough for it to stop me. With a lot of turbulence I get really scared, and so lots of fears of death came up. And for the first time there was the irrefutable recognition of the truth that we’re born, we live, we die. That’s it. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. No purpose or meaning other than the stories we make up about it. It is the ultimate mystery. My life may have some grand purpose, or absolutely none at all, other than the fact of some creative force having the experience it’s having as this “lifestream”. We don’t know, and can never know. It’s completely mysterious. And possibly completely pointless. It is very humbling. There’s nothing to be done. There’s just this: this fact of life happening here for as long as it happens. And some grief and sadness that it will end one day. It’s not like I’ve never thought about death before, it’s just that this time it seemed deeper, more real, this fact of inevitable death.  We tend to be so blasé about it: about life, and death, as if we have limitless time, and death is something that happens to other people.  Now it is no longer something to be swept under the carpet, but something to be lived as a great truth of life. I will die. It makes me appreciate life more. And I don’t want to lose track of this deeper knowing and acceptance of death. It makes me appreciate life more.

There was a sense of terror, of the turbulence being so bad that the plane would become so uncontrollable that it would just fall out of the sky. And so what also arose was fear of the manner of my death. And I thought well I’d have to let go and just surrender to it at some point on the way down. When I mentioned this to Don he replied “or not, and scream all the way down”. So, yes, like most people I’d like to die quietly and painlessly in my sleep.

Just to drive the point home, a man died on our flight, quietly, and probably inevitably. They had removed some seats and put in a raised stretcher, and as we walked by him to our seats it was plain to see he was old, and frail, and on oxygen, and drips, and a doctor was with him watching a monitor. Later as I waited to use the bathroom I could see his chest rising and falling as he breathed. Much later still, (it was an eleven hour flight) again waiting to use the bathroom, I could see the doctor pumping a “balloon” to keep him breathing (or so I assumed). I think he died. Quietly, in his sleep. On his last flight home. One day every one of us will take that last flight, one way or another. I’m glad it’s not yet here. I’m not ready! Too much living to do.

So. We are back in Vancouver. It feels quite like home. We plan to stay in the Vancouver area for the summer to re-group, take care of business, catch up with friends, and plan our next trip.

Next blog: some thoughts from Don.

All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted.
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.