One of the biggest things that has changed since having a baby is my experience of time. Back in London, whole days would go by when all I managed to do was feed and change her, hastily scrabbling together a sandwich or pouring as much water down my throat as I could in the few minutes I had while she slept or didn’t want attention. The washing would get hung out in parts – a few pieces thrown over the airier until her crying got too loud. In the half hour before he came home from work I’d put her in the sling so I could empty the dishwasher, chop some onions, anything so I could have something to show for my eight hours in the flat.
Weeks were either squashed small with nothing done or stretched beyond recognition. Day blurred into night as I woke every few hours to sit in my feeding chair, so when it got to the end of the week it seemed strange that such a small part of a month had passed.
Needless to say, this has hugely affected our travelling pace. On the one hand, it’s actually pretty great. When we visited Brazil, we squeezed so much into two weeks it was hard to stop and appreciate the wonderful things we saw. This time, we’re lucky if we get going before 11am, so it gives us time to relax and spend time together, rather than rushing around to see things. We fit less in a day, but appreciate it as we have to stop for a feed or a change, so we look around more. A few days ago in Moonee Beach (near Coffs Harbour), we took our lunch up to a sky pier looking out over the forest and the bay, and saw a goana (basically a big lizard) hanging out in a tree. This morning while I was feeding her, I watched kangaroos ambling about in the grass not far from our campsite. Had we rushed up and out, we might have missed out on these lovely experiences.
First changing experience in the van
There are times, however, that a speedier pace might have saved us a few problems. Having spent some time in Sydney, we were picking up our camper van and heading out onto the open road. Three weeks to travel 2000km (SOME miles) was a little daunting, but we were looking forward to the adventure. Our first stop was The Blue Mountains, a beautiful area just west of Sydney that promised spectacular views, hikes, and a cosy campground. We had our first picnic lunch outside the van in a lay-by (there wasn’t quite enough time to make it further out of the city) and looked at our route. A two-hour drive, and it was only 2pm, would see us at the campsite well before it closed at 6pm. Perhaps we could even stop off and see some sights along the way.
Alas, this was not to be the case. We hadn’t gone too far when we realised we had a problem – the back of the van was getting rather hot. It had been an unseasonable 43 degrees the day before (in autumn?) and it was still in the early 30s. While we were coping fine with it, she wasn’t doing as well. We decided the best solution would be a fan. We were in Australia, there were bound to be plenty of options.
Our not-so-rustic first picnic location
Dousing a towel and draping it over her head, we set out. At the first big shop, no luck. Bizarrely, the only thing they seemed to sell was heaters. Nothing to help us cool down. No problem, there was another retail park not far away. Twenty minutes down the road and we were no closer to finding something useful. There was a supermarket though, so we stocked up and asked where else we could go. This time would be fine, no problem.
The final stop was a huge retail park with a plethora of shops. The problem with not living in a country is that you don’t recognise the names of shops and what they sell. After perusing the map and memorising the locations, off I went. All the way down one side. No joy. Back up the other side. Still nothing. Where on earth was K-Mart? What I didn’t realise was that I had to go outside. When I finally made it, there was the same disappointing story. Only heaters. We reconvened to make a plan.
He went off in one direction to buy an extension lead, some rope, a mirror and some tape. I went back to the original shop to find a heater that also had a fan-only function. We met up in the van. Perfect. Now all we had to do was attach the mirror to the seat so we could see her, hook up the fan to the extension lead and find a way of anchoring in the back of the van so she could get a continuous stream of air. We plugged it in. Nothing happened. The lights worked, the van still started, so the battery wasn’t flat. What could be the problem? Then we remembered. When we weren’t plugged into power, the voltage was limited. So the fan wouldn’t work while we were driving. And the mirror was too small to be able to see from the front of the van. Our hours of searching the shops had produced nothing whatsoever of use.
With time pressing, we decided to push on ahead to our destination. I stayed in the back to make sure she was ok. As we pulled out, a lovely breeze fluttered the curtains, cooling her little head. Until he put the windows up. If only we’d realised that all we had to do was leave the front windows open to produce exactly the effect we were looking for.
Haring up the road as fast as our rickety van would allow, we didn’t make it into town until 6:50pm, well after the campsite had closed. We rushed around the town of Katoomba, desperately searching for a place that was still open. Crowds of tourists flocked to view the beautiful sunset over the mountains while I scoured the board outside the closed tourist information office for anything useful.
We did eventually see the Blue Mountains
No worry, we would be self-sufficient. Our van had power, a toilet, a shower. Everything we needed. Finding a free bush campsite, we set off. What looked like a short drive on the map turned out to be forty minutes of twists and turns on rough mountain roads. Finally pulling into a place where we couldn’t see further than a few feet as it was so dark, we relaxed. Here we were, at our destination.
We were just figuring out how to slot the parts together to make the bed when all the lights cut out. We hadn’t unpacked, so all of our stuff, including the torch, was somewhere buried beneath mounds of clothes. It took about 10 minutes to find it, while waving our phones about as torches. By this time it was well past bedtime and she was wailing, incredibly unimpressed at her first experience of camping. Torch found, we finally set up her bed, put her down, and managed to get ourselves a little organised. It would be fine. We had food, a stove. Except, it didn’t work. One click of the ignition and a sad little flame went out after a few seconds. There we were, in the middle of nowhere. No power, no gas, no water, apart from the small bottles we’d filled on the way there.
Defeated, we sat down at the table and had yet another picnic. The useless extension cord and fan lay at our feet as we shared a warm beer. Had we arrived at the campsite on time, we could have been sitting in light, perhaps having had a warm shower, eating a hot meal. All we could do was hope that keeping the fridge closed was enough not to spoil our haul of groceries.
These are the times when you could do without the delays caused by having a small baby. Had we been alone, we would have made it in plenty of time, watched the sunset, perhaps gone to a bar or restaurant and enjoyed an evening in our powered campsite with electric lighting.
But even then, there were a couple of hidden benefits. That night I saw more stars than I’ve seen in months, the wash of the milky way climbing up the huge sky. And in the morning, as we bounced our way back to civilisation, a chocolate-brown wallaby hopped away from the road, our first sighting of some genuine Australian wildlife.