Mexico & meds

23 Mar


In keeping with my desire to clarify some commonly-held myths about Mexico, I want to share my experience with the pharmaceutical and medical facilities here, in arguably one of the most Americanized sectors of the country. First of all, let’s talk about the availability of prescription drugs over the counter–one of the most vaunted perks of visiting Mexico.

I went to the Farmacia here in Ajijic, to see if I could get my prescription of Celebrex filled. On my health plan in the States, I can now get the generic brand of this on my prescription plan for $20, for a full 60-day supply, or 30 cents per pill. If I insisted on the non-generic brand, it would cost about $150, or $2.75 per pill.  (Isn’t that crazy?) ANYWAY: at the Farmacia, I showed my prescription to the pharmacist.   They immediately gave me a box of “real” Celebrex–10 tablets for 280 pesos, which is about $14, or about $1.40 per tablet. So while it is true that you can get most prescription meds here over the counter easily, they are not necessarily cheap.  I could have asked for generic, perhaps, and it could be that being in such an Americanized place they ask higher prices than elsewhere, but I must say I was a little disappointed.

Now for the medical situation:  in my never-ending quest for better knee mobility with less pain, I have been getting hyaluronic injections (rooster combs!) for the last two years or so. I got them before we went to Europe last year, and this is also what I got in Barcelona last February (and there paid about $700 for 3 shots and 3 visits). In the States, my health insurance (Scan, or supplemental Medicare) does cover most of the cost–I think I have to pay about $75 for 3 injections, or some thing like that. But I can only get that done every six months, and as we are now on the road until June, and my six months is only up in April, I felt the need to see if I could get the shots here. We have been told that Guadalajara, and hence this region, has very good medical facilities, and very good doctors.  And indeed, my friend here knew just who to call: a young orthopedic surgeon who comes to Ajijic once a week to treat all the North Americans in town!  I sent him an email asking if he could provide Synvisc injections, and he personally called me to say he could, and told me to call the office to set up an appointment.  I saw him yesterday, he gave me a physical examination, asked all the right questions, and even recommended that I get only a one-injection course, and that the right knee wouldn’t really be helped by a Synvisc dose, since what was wrong with it is something other than what Synvisc treats (so better treatment than on my U.S. health plan!). All went well, he gave me the nearly painless injection himself, and wished me well.  The doctor speaks perfect English, has studied with major orthopedists in the States, and operates in the major hospital in Guadalajara, where many Canadian and American patients come for operations (he’s a shoulder specialist).

The bill, as you can see above, was 10,500 pesos–about $530! All of this must be paid in cash–cards are only used in Mexico in touristy places, as far as I can tell. We didn’t have enough cash on us, and they were more than willing to let us return with the rest of the payment later.  The doctor was willing to write a thorough report for my insurance needs–of course, I still have to have him sign the insurance company’s physician’s form, fingers crossed he will do this for me, and fingers crossed the insurance company will reimburse me for at least some of this amount.  So that’s my experience with the medical community:  again, these high prices may be because we’re in this American enclave, and I’m sure that those who come on “medical tourism” trips for operations in Guadalajara can indeed get major operations, done very well, for far less than it would cost them in the U.S. or in Canada. But for what I had done, I would say the prices are comparable to what one would have to pay at home.

I hope this clarifies some of the myths about healthcare here. It can be more expensive for non-natives than one had been led to believe.

Further impressions of Ajijic

16 Mar

One of the main reasons we like to stay for at least a month in all these places we visit is that it gives us enough time to accumulate experiences in the location so that we can weigh up the pros and cons, balancing the things we like with the things we don’t like.  Right now we are vacillating a lot between those pros and cons. Ajijic is so Americanized–well North Americanized, since the majority of the ex-pats are Canadian–that it is still a little unsettling for us that we hear more English, see more blondes, and shop in stores that are filled with products from “home.” Every week, Ajijic has an organic farmer’s market filled with supposedly organic products. We would have seen more Mexicans by far at the farmer’s market in Pasadena than we saw here, even as vendors. Mexicans wouldn’t be so spend-thrift as to pay the prices here in any case–about double what the same products would cost in the regular Mexican markets. Just my musings about the place. Is this really Mexico?

I can certainly understand why Americans, and especially Canadians, would find Ajijic to be paradise on earth: the weather is absolutely splendid, with lush vegetation, cooling breezes from Lake Chapala, and clear skies almost every day. Because it’s at such a high altitude, it never gets humid, either. To us, Southern Californians that we are, these benefits are not so overwhelming; it just reminds us very strongly of San Diego.

Of course, there are great benefits to being in such an Americanized place:  The Lake Chapala Society offers all the cultural advantages of home, with a library, cafe, lectures, bus tours, musical performances, Spanish classes and information about medical facilities and access to all kinds of information and discounts that would be hard to find on one’s own. We have become members for one month (100 pesos–$5)!  Ajijic itself has only one tiny bookshop, no museums, and no cultural institutions to speak of. Tomorrow (our 43rd anniversary!) we will go to Guadalajara–35 miles away–for the first time, and may find that the city will provide a source of intellectual sustenance.

What this place has also made us realize, at least in our thoughts today: we are not ready for a retirement community! None of the Americans/Canadians here are under 50, and even 50 is quite young. I haven’t seen a single American young person or child. Without nearly perfect Spanish, we miss having a variety of ages and  access to Mexican families and students. Even with the language, it is difficult to imagine how we could easily have those experiences. I’m hoping that when we visit other parts of Mexico, we might see if those kinds of interactions are possible.

Here are the very real positives for us:  the costs of things!  George is now writing up a detailed list of “Stuff in Ajijic”, which he will (hopefully) post as a blog soon. As some of you may remember if you have been reading our blogs all along, we have started this round of travels for two reasons: first, in the decision to rent out our house again, our immediate reason was that we felt we had to be out of the country for this odious administration’s first 100 days, in hopes that we could escape the unbearable effects of the destruction of American democracy (we can’t) and find out possible places of refuge if and when family and friends needed to flee. We will indeed write up the steps needed to come to Mexico on a long-term basis, should it come to that.


Sending my Dump Trump postcard to the White House on the Ides of March. Word is it will probably take two months to get there.

Our second reason is a more practical one: since we have both retired, we can no longer afford to live in our Californian home. We are consequently seeking out places that may be more affordable for us; I know we are not alone in this search. Since it is easy to rent out our house to Huntington scholars and others, we can cover those expenses while (hopefully) living elsewhere for less money. And for this reason, Mexico is indeed the winner so far: we can live much more cheaply here, and it’s only a three-hour flight to Denver to see our kids and other family.  So today, one week into our one-month stay, we are still tossing up all these factors. Still on the agenda, after Mexico, is another visit to Europe (which, let’s be honest, is where we really want to be!), some forays into small-town California, and even Taos, New Mexico.You can see, then, that we are adrift, still wandering gypsies who would really like to be settled.

Meanwhile, the sun shines, we have a construction site next door with pounding sledge hammers, the birds on the lake and surrounds are a delight, and the ATMs sometimes work and sometimes don’t. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Finally, for those friends who want to know where my picture of cats is:  we have only seen one cat on the street, an adorable kitten who rushed right up to us in hopes of finding food. There are lots and lots of stray dogs on the streets of Ajijic, which may be why there are no cats!


First impressions of Ajijic

11 Mar


The picture above is a perfect metaphor for our first impression of this lakeside town. The horses, from a corral just down the street from our rental, are brought up here to graze on the grass in front of the entirely gated community across the street from our house here in Ajijic.  The gated community could as easily be in Palos Verdes or San Diego. The place is a fascinating mix of Mexican rural/small town and North American (mostly Canadian) ex-pat community. In the morning, we see very proper, usually older, country-club English speakers walking their little dogs along the street. In the afternoon, young charros come and sing to herd the horses back to the corral, and later men in cowboy hats ride the same horses down the same street. We really like watching the seamlessness with which these two very different worlds coexist.


Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest natural lake, is right down the street–the photo shows the view from our third floor balcony.  The lake is, alas, rather polluted, but the walk along the malecon–the boardwalk–is very pretty. Ajijic itself is small, filled with restaurants, boutiques, and charming street scenes. While the town, according to a big mural in Centro, was founded by the Aztecs in 1472, there are few colonial buildings here.

To the north of our place–we are in Upper Ajijic–are the mountains–Sierra de San Juan Cosala. Unlike many mountain ranges, we are finding these gentle hills to be embracing, protecting, and benevolent.


rentsigninenglish_ajijic_mar10A sign of how overwhelmingly North American the place is:   almost all the signs are in English, including the For Rent signs! Our landlord for this wonderful three-story house with all the mod cons is from New York via Florida and has lived here 14 years. He’s the perfect landlord: here if we need him and not here if we don’t need him.  A very laid back place.


We have been well looked after by my dear Facebook friend Leslie, another American who has lived here for 12 years. She picked us up at the airport in Guadalajara, she brought us food, and has shown us the ropes in town. Today she is taking us into Chapala, the bigger town on the lake, where we will go to the markets and learn how to take the bus back to Ajijic.

Finally, in another sign of how ex-pat the place is, the grounds of The Lake Chapala Society is the prettiest place in town. One has to become a member to have access to libraries, lectures, classes, and bus tours to other parts of Mexico. The grounds include a pond, a pavilion, and lovely gardens.

There are more AA meetings here than you would find in a comparably sized American town, both in English and in Spanish!  I’m set!


5 Mar

Today I have unfriended a college friend from my Facebook page. She is a jolly, happy, fun-loving person who has a very nice life, with a kind husband, very involved in her Church, and with two children she adores and lots of cute grandchildren. She was so excited to find me on FB , and likes to share silly memes, and videos of cats.  I feel terrible about doing this, my conscience is bothering me, since on most fronts our harmless shares were quite fun.

So why did I unfriend her?  Because not only did she vote for Trump, she also began defending him. I had always assumed that she was just such a product of a patrician Republican upbringing that she blindly voted for him without really thinking about it much. I have repeatedly questioned her about how she could possibly think that this dangerously unhinged demagogue could do any good for anybody, and she has never given me any kind of response–just occasional comments about suffering under Obama and Pelosi (?!), no real evidence of a responsibly considered decision to support this man. Still, she hung on gamely through the morass of increasingly desperate and intemperate political shares that have overtaken my FB site, along with so many of us who are reeling in  terror at what this man and his minions plan to destroy in the next few months (we hope not for years). But recently she began to express sentiments defending Bannon–BANNON!–attacking other people on my site with passive-aggressive statements and comments unsupported by any evidence or factual documentation. She didn’t seem to be fazed by any criticism directed at her, a fact that astounded me, as other Facebook friends presented her with article after article presenting facts, to which she would only respond with opinion with no concrete explanation of why she held her beliefs. I and other friends sincerely asked her to explain her stances, to provide details that could exonerate the man, to no avail. Finally, I just couldn’t bear it anymore–that someone I know, that someone who is educated and considers herself a good Christian, could simply dismiss all evidence that this man and his small cabal are in no way old-fashioned Republicans or Christians, but who are out to destroy everything that I and so many others consider the basis of American democracy. I know I have other Facebook friends who probably voted for Trump but who just ignore those political shares that they don’t agree with for the sake of being able to see photos of my grandson and my considerable number of contributions to the page on art and baby otters. But she decided to wade in to political discussions in a defensively unconsidered way.

For better or worse, this is what Facebook and other social media sites have become: a platform for political alignments. And yes, many of us begin to insulate ourselves from other opinions by only having friends who share our world views, and yes, we may all be losing our sense of humor. I don’t think I have done this completely, but the current situation is, to my mind, so dire, so unprecedented, so dystopian, that I simply cannot bear to be reminded that many good, well-meaning people cannot see the perilous direction that their own actions–that is, voting for this man–are causing to take place. I have said this before: we are at a turning point as disastrous as Germany in 1933, when many good, well-meaning people also could not believe that such tragedies were in store, even for them.  There are those who would try to shame me for unfriending someone who feels that Facebook should be harmless and lighthearted, and I am truly saddened that the times require resistance and political activism rather than fun and frivolity. I will, of course, continue to put up my baby photos and comments on art and life, but Facebook is also the only platform I have to communicate common goals, and right now those goals involve saving the world as we know it from irreversible catastrophes. So sorry…..

Rover Thomas

24 Feb


When I put up this photo of me at Canberra’s National Gallery of Australia standing next to Rover Thomas’s “Cyclone Tracy” on my Facebook page, I wrote that if I could have any painting in the world, this is the one I would choose.  What a response of perplexed and dismayed objection I received! The reaction reminded me of the kind of responses I used to get from some people about a Jackson Pollock or other abstract painting–from “you can have it” to “can I choose a different one?” While my statement may have been a bit of hyperbole–aesthetically, I probably would prefer an Emily Kngwarreye to gaze upon for the rest of my days, and it would be near sacrilege and certainly disrespectful to remove Rover’s landmark painting from its native land–for me, the work has such power as an unprecedented record of a historic artistic moment that I am always overcome with tingling emotion whenever I see it. Here’s what Wally Caruana, then Curator of Aboriginal Art at the National Gallery of Australia, wrote about it:

When he was a lad, Thomas was taken from his home in the Great Sandy Desert, north along the Canning Stock Route, to work on cattle stations in the eastern Kimberley, where he spent some 40 years as a stockman and fencer. However by the late 1960s and early 1970s, a number of social and cultural upheavals occurred across the Kimberley: cattle-station owners dismissed hundreds of Aboriginal workers who moved to the fringes of white townships where they established camps, and ceremonial life was on the wane. Then on Christmas Eve 1974, Cyclone Tracy destroyed Darwin. The city was regarded by Aboriginal people of the Kimberley as the centre of European culture and, as cyclones, rain and storms are usually associated with ancestral Rainbow Serpents, elders interpreted the event as the ancestors warning Aboriginal people to reinvigorate their cultural practices.

Consequently a number of ceremonies were performed for a lay public in an act of cultural affirmation. By 1975 Thomas had settled at Warmun and here he had a dream visitation by the spirit of an aunt who had died as a result of injuries sustained in a car crash on a road flooded by Cyclone Tracy. The woman was being flown to hospital in Perth but she died when the aeroplane was above Broome in the western Kimberley. From here her spirit travelled across the Kimberley, visiting sacred and historical sites along the way until she reached her home in the east where she witnessed the Rainbow Serpent destroying Darwin. The narrative became the basis for the Kurirr Kurirr ceremony that the spirit of Thomas’s aunt had revealed to him.

By tradition, Thomas did not paint any of the early boards carried by performers in the Kurirr Kurirr—this responsibility fell to his uncle, Paddy Jaminji, who was the first of the Kurirr Kurirr painters. Between them, these two artists were the leading figures in the establishment of the modern East Kimberley painting movement, which is now known worldwide.

The paintings made for the Kurirr Kurirr were usually composed of a few basic shapes, as their meanings would be elaborated in the ceremony. Paintings related to the narrative of the cyclone but not made for use in ceremony tend to be more complex: the original icon for Cyclone Tracy over Darwin approximates a simple bold U-shape; however Thomas’s large canvas, Cyclone Tracy 1991, painted separately to the ceremony, displays a further articulation of the shape of the cyclone and the winds carrying the dust and sand that feed into it.

This piece, then, was the result of Rover Thomas’s epiphany about the meaning of Cyclone Tracy to his people: that they needed to return to their traditions and ceremonies. In creating this work, Thomas, along with a few others, began an entire stylistic direction now associated with the Kimberley region’s Aboriginal groups. He went on to paint whole series of canvases delineating aspects of his land and its ceremonies.  He was revered by his people, and became one of the leading figures in the creation of Aboriginal art as–to paraphrase the late Robert Hughes–the last great modern art movement.

My favorite story about Thomas involves my ANU colleague and grand man of Australian art history Sasha Grishin. One time he had the privilege to accompany Rover Thomas while he was given a tour of the NGA. The artist was by this time quite frail and in a wheelchair. When he came to Mark Rothko’s work, Thomas stopped and examined it for a while; then he said to Sasha, “that white fella paint like me, but he don’t know how to use black.”


Mark Rothko, 1957 #20, 1957. Image rights copyright Kate Rothko Prizel &Christopher Rothko/ARS. Licensed by Viscopy

I hope this helps people understand why Rover Thomas’s work, and especially his “Cyclone Tracy”  speaks to me so strongly. It is the visual manifestation of a spiritual experience, with immense significance stemming from a devastating recent event in the lives of all Australians.  Thomas’s intuitive expression of the disaster and its meaning for him and his people is, to my mind, simply magisterial .


19 Feb

Let me begin this segment by stating two irrefutable facts about Canberra:

  1. Canberra is truly the Bush Capital. Australian flora and fauna are everywhere, with cockatoo flocks in the backyard, as well as the occasional kangaroo in the carport.
  2. It was a great place to raise a boy. Sports ovals of every kind for at least 5 different codes of football and various other activities from baseball to basketball to fencing are in abundance.

That being said, our past experiences in the Australian Capital made our return this time a bit angst-ridden. Not all trips down Memory Lane bring up happy or pleasant reminiscences. (I have written about our trials in Canberra in my blog entry on September 6, . Drastic cuts in government funding have only increased the pressure on the cultural institutions and universities that we have loved. But that’s a story for another time ). Those feelings were probably initiated by the fact that we began our Canberra visit in Queanbeyan, the place where we lived when we decided we had to leave Australia. Except for a newly modernized Woolworth’s supermarket, the town looked about the same as it had before. Sadly, our funny little house–which had been a corner shop originally, and we had really fixed up both inside and outside–had been neglected, though we were heartened to see that the bushes and trees we planted were still there, but the garden itself was a mess.

Australia is also experiencing one of its hottest summers on record (climate change, anyone?), and Canberra, which normally never stayed simmering for too long, was sweltering.  This did not improve our mood at all.

p1240264But oh, there were so many friends!  Tony Cristofaro, fruiterer extraordinaire, was still spruiking away at Fyshwick Markets, looking unchanged at the age of 81. His daughter Lisa had been my student at ANU–and now her oldest is starting uni!  Oh, my, how old are we???

We stayed first at Carol Croce’s house–the same place, by the way, that I had my last drink 21 years ago!  We have known Carol since ANU Housing days in Garran, when she and her family arrived from Madison, Wisconsin.  She went on to work very successfully for Australian NGOs, and her daughter Chloe, who was 6 when we first met, is now running organizations aiding the homeless in Melbourne.  Carol looks fabulous, and has certainly found her niche in Canberra.

Maggie Brady, whose house we stayed in in Mystery Bay, also generously hosted us at herp1240343 Canberra house, filled with Aboriginal art, and SOME air conditioning. George worked with Maggie at AIATISIS, and we have hosted her at our house in Pasadena. We planned wonderful meals, and went to a concert at the National Gallery of Art after which we viewed the museum’s extraordinary Aboriginal art collection (more on that later, when I write about Rover Thomas). Maggie takes up every offer to experience what many cultural opportunities Canberra has to offer, so she was a good reminder to us of what a cultural life one can have in the city.

My old friend Chris Bettle–one of the only old intellectuals I know who won’t use a computer and has no cell phone, so can only be reached by actual letters–was so kind to introduce me at last to Humphrey McQueen, one of Australia’s only public intellectuals, author of many books, and the one who criticized my appointment to the ANU faculty back in 1990 (I agreed with him: why were they hiring an American woman to teach Australian art?).  We had a very lively and thought-provoking conversation over tea and cakes in


Chris Bettle and Humphrey McQueen

“Civic,” as downtown Canberra is known. He was delightful. One of the most interesting aspects of Canberra is that it’s very easy to get to know everyone, including all the artists, writers, and intellectuals.

We also had lunch at the National Library with my old colleague (from the English department) Gillian Russell, who filled me in on events of the last decade at the ANU and elsewhere (not a pretty story). It was really lovely to see her again, and to hear of her current writing project on the history of ephemera. She writes brilliantly.

As does my friend and colleague Gael Newton, now retired as Curator of Photography at the NGA. (She also recounted some of the horror stories of recent cuts to the arts and cultural institutions by the Australian government.) Gael can really be considered one of the founders of Australian photographic history, and continues to write and is involved in exhibitions, and still has her eye out for photographic treasures. Her focus for the last few years has been photography in Southeast Asia, but she still has her hand in Australian topics, too.  She and her husband Paul had us over for lunch at their air-conditioned houseeegaelnewton_canberra (you can see a thread here–it was so hot that finding A/C was a mandatory endeavor), where I could gaze in awe at the prodigiousness of Gael’s archives, the volumes through which she is now trying to wade. We are exactly the same age, and are confronting the tasks at the end of careers in different ways but with the same sense of nostalgia and rumination. Her archives, however, are much more important and contain singular documents from most of the leading figures in Australian art of the 20th century.

George also worked at AIATSIS with Ros Percival, married to Keith, who are dinky-di old working-class lefties–a category that hardly exists in America anymore. Ros had, unfortunately, broken a vertebra in her back, so was a bit laid up, but they kindly invited us over for lunch in their Queanbeyan house.  They haven’t changed one iota. What a relief.

Finally, it was a treat to visit our old Yarralumla friends Andy & Noelle Waugh and their now quickly expanding family of children, grandchildren, boyfriends and wives. They now live in Duffy, on the edge of Canberra where the “Perfect Storm” fire of 2003 came to their back door. As you can see from the photos, almost everyone in the family is a redhead, as are the family pets! Great fun to see them again.

Once we started feeling less alienated after having such inviting and warm visits with old friends, we ventured out to our favorite Canberra places, the Botanic Gardens and the NGA.  The Gardens was the scene of many family expeditions, including one when a kookaburra came swooshing down and grabbed a piece of chicken right out of Max’s hand. The water dragons are still there, and a new native bee house, as well as a section for The Red Desert plants, has been added. And still an excellent bookshop.

If it hadn’t been so beastly hot–up to 42 C. degrees, or 108 F.degrees–we might have wanted to stay longer, but we really had to go.  In the end, when we totted up all that Canberra has to offer against our personal anxieties evoked by the place, it really is the right size and has enough cultural attractions to make it a very livable town.  Unfortunately, the housing prices are astronomical now–a small and not particularly attractive house in an inner suburb that sold for $170,000 in the mid 90s is now valued at over $800,000!  So Canberra is out of the picture as a retirement venue for us.  Nonetheless, we wouldn’t mind going back for visits if the opportunities arose.  As for our considerations of Australia as a whole: I will wait to discuss them once we have finished our other travels to Mexico and in Europe again.  Stay tuned!

The South Coast

10 Feb

Oh, my, so behind on the travelogue! Let me try to summarize our two weeks along the South Coast after we left Ulladulla/Kings Point.  The photos above are of the gorgeous beaches in and around Mystery Bay. Our friend Maggie Brady let us stay in her wonderful summer house there, and we liked it so much we stayed for almost two weeks! Mystery Bay is about 10 km from Narooma, the biggest town in the area. It is very popular with Canberrans–3 hours away–as a place to escape the inland heat and, if fortunate enough, to buy a getaway house.  Maggie and her late husband Alan were able to buy their house many years ago, when the prices were not so impossible. She has been very generous in allowing us to stay here. We like it because, unlike so many other houses that Australians build along the coast, it really is in the bush, designed to be unpretentious but functional, and it blends into the landscape. (It was designed by a German, and you can tell!)

The only drawback: there is no internet, no cell phone, no shops in Mystery Bay!  It really is, then, a getaway, but not conducive to long-time stays, unless one figures out how to get some reception.  A lot of the time we would walk up the hill, and then could make a phone call, and we had a portable WiFi device that worked some of the time.  This was indeed a good place to be for the lamentable period of the inauguration and the first disastrous weeks of the new U.S. presidency.

We saw some animals that we rarely had seen in the past: at 1080 Beach, the beautiful beach shown above, swamp wallabies roam calmly, undisturbed by people. And for me, most excitingly, ECHIDNAS are all over the place!  I think we had only seen one echidna in the wild before this:

In case you wonder what an echidna is, they are one of only 5 monotremes in the world–that is, egg-laying mammals–including the platypus.  Covered in spines, somewhat like a hedgehog, they will curl up in an impenetrable ball if harassed. They appeared in the front garden in Mystery Bay, sniffling around the vegetation, in the late afternoon.

As for the reason Mystery Bay is so named, here is the explanation, on a plaque at the beach:


The prevailing suspicion is that they were done in by miners who didn’t want to pay their assessed taxes!

Along with gorgeous beaches and fabulous fish, the South Coast region around Narooma includes temperate rain forests, at least one of which has been tended by the State Forestry Division.  It provides a magical walk through fern gullies and feathery palms.

Because of the lack of internet at our digs, we spent a lot of time at the Narooma Public Library–we weren’t the only ones!  The place was buzzing with activity, from children’s reading hour to art presentations.  Public libraries–the last openly free service to the public.  A godsend to the communities they serve! And here, outside the windows, I could watch the lorikeets sitting in the most beautiful grevilleas.

In our search for affordable housing–remember, that was part of the original purpose for making this trip–we had been advised to check out Bermagui, where we had been told old Canberra lefties were starting to retire, so there was a livelier cultural scene than its earlier phases could provide.  This is the town made famous by Zane Grey, who discovered it as a gateway to magnificent deep-sea fishing. We had visited the place often when we lived in Canberra. Somehow, we were not impressed. The wonderful old Bermagui Hotel is so tarted up it was virtually unrecognizable from its previous appearance as a small-town gem of a hotel, and we really didn’t see much of a cultural buzz anywhere. Never mind, our friend Tonia did introduce us to an amazingly good gelato shop there. Prices for housing were a little bit lower than further north up the coast (we did find that as soon as the rail line ended in Nowra, the prices of real estate began to drop)–but still fairly high for our tastes.

Finally, we decided to drive down to Mallacoota, in nostalgic recognition of a family expedition of many years ago.  When we were beginning our work on The Blue Guide in about 1992, we were in Melbourne, and were advised to visit the most isolated point in Victoria at Mallacoota. Max, at 10, was with us when we set off to go there.  We thoroughly miscalculated the amount of time the drive would take (this was in the days before Google Maps).  As it became apparent that we were still hours from our destination, Max began to whimper from hunger.  By the time we got to our hotel, it was absolutely pitch dark out and there were NO places open that had food.  The clerk at our hotel suggested we visit the golf club, which might still be open.  We made a beeline there, arriving just as they were closing. They let us have a prawn cocktail, which Max promptly devoured, and then roosongolfcourse2_mallacootaimmediately fell asleep.  In memory of this occasion we did revisit the golf club, only to find mediocre food at exorbitant (to us) prices. But there were still kangaroos on the golf course!

We had a splendid time in Mallacoota–stayed in a lovely AirBnB apartment on Bottom Lake, a bit to the south of the village proper. The village is indeed isolated, reached from Princes Highway after a winding 13-km. road.  According to Wikipedia, its year-round population is 970, a figure that swells to 8,000 in the summer. An enormous campground dominates the town. But the area is just stunning, with flocks of rare grey-headed flying foxes (they weren’t in residence when we were there, but we went to a very informative and well-attended talk about them, put on by the University of the Third Age, a very active group of older residents of the area), and magnificent gum trees. The larger image below is of the most venerable Mallacoota Gum, of which there are only 38 individual specimens left.

But our biggest excitement in Mallacoota came on a walk through the Croajingolong National Park, a section of which skirted the lake where we were staying. After a nice but rather uneventful trek up to The Narrows of the inlet, we were walking back to the car, when George yelled, “Erika, get your camera out quick!”  There in our path was an enormous goanna–at least 4 feet long, and flicking out his tongue furiously.

We kept our distance until he finally galumphed off to the water. We had never seen such a goanna so close by!  They are apparently quite common in this national park. Very exciting.

After two days in this little corner of Victoria–far too isolated to consider moving there permanently–we headed out up the Monaro Highway for Canberra.  The South Coast is a beautiful merging of sea and forest, green and clear blue waters, and still rather removed from what passes as “modern” civilization. That has distinct advantages, but for those of us in need of some cultural institutions–and at least reliable internet–it really is too far (Narooma is 5 hours from Sydney, 8 hours from Melbourne, 4 hours from Canberra). Definitely worth a visit, and we are so thankful that we had the opportunity to stay there for a while.