Southwestern Sayanara

Saturday, February 23, 2008

My last shift at Matilda Bay behind me with the skyline of Perth, I was aboard a bus at 7 AM bound for the southwestern town of Esperance. My last trip in Australia, my last week down under, and a last bit of beach, wine, desert, and excessively long road trips. The trip from Perth to Esperance was over 800km, and that was just the first day of travel. Thankfully, there were a few stops to break the road up, worthy or not. The first stop falls into the latter category: it was a dog cemetery. Every year, all the farmers in the land and beyond put their dogs in the backs of their utes and parade past the cemetery to the nearby town Corrigin. There were somewhere near 1000 once upon a time, probably before everyone realized what a dull parade this would be. Prior to that, we stopped in one of Western Australia’s oldest towns, York, and grabbed a bit of breakfast. The jury is out on which was more interesting. We had lunch at Wave Rock, a large rock formation in the shape of a cresting wave, which was a much more interesting stop. Before long, we were in Esperance, eating lasagne and playing spoons. I think we have a pretty balanced group – fun but not outrageous, and definitely varied and interesting. Already I have lots of tips for Thailand from an Aussie who lived there a couple years. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The second day we spent completely in Esperance, which was a nice break from all the driving on day one. Our first stop was a climb up Frenchman’s Peak, which was pretty nice and offered panoramic views of the coast around Esperance. Back at the bottom, we went to Lucky Bay which was just stunning. The sand was as white as I’ve ever seen though the wind was fresh from Antarctica we still had a bit of a swim. Hellfire Bay was next, apparently named for a bit of St. Elmo’s fire happening on an explorer’s ship mast as he took refuge from a storm there. This was also a beautiful spot, we sat on the rock as the waves flew in past us and crashed maybe 20m below. I understood why people rate the beaches here so highly now. And that was BEFORE we took our little trip up the Twilight Road to see some of the other beaches closer in to the actual town; Esperance’s self-titled beach is one of my favourites. Or at least, it would be… until I came upon the Green Pools the next day.

Day three of our five day tour, Feb 20, brought us a long way once more. In fact we drove and drove and finally reached Porongurup National Park sometime after lunch, where we ascended Castle Rock in the late afternoon. The view was of scattered boulders – one balanced quite precariously – on the mountaintop and once we conquered those, of vast plains and mountains fogged by distance. Something like looking at the far western prairies of Alberta, I suppose. It was a nice walk up and, low and behold, I got reception with Vodaphone – the worst carrier in Australia, in my opinion – at the top. This was handy as I had to give my credit card details over the phone to an optometrist with whom I’d organized to get some more contacts dropped at Daren’s place. I also discovered that my iPod had been dropped off at Matilda Bay, presumably operating normally. Then back down and into Albany. While supper was being prepared, I went with Rowan and the Germans to a brewery down the street which did a nice white/wheat and blueberry beer. In fact, their pilsner was my favourite, but as you can tell I did some sampling. Back at the hostel, banana cake as an appetizer, spaghetti as a main, and more pints for dessert.

Day four was probably the best day of the trip. We were out of the hostel and on the road by 8AM, and it’s just as well, we had a lot of business to attend to that day. Our first stop, about 20 minutes later, was Natural Bridge. The rock here is an exact match with that found on the northern coast of Antarctica, which is pretty cool to think about. I remember feeling a breeze coming directly from the south and thinking that I was being called to explore the vast expanses of the south. Someday. Back in the real world, we got back on the bus and headed further along the coast to some blow holes. While water wasn’t coming out (luckily), massive blasts of air were. One of the Japanese girls on our trip volunteered her long hair to the blow hole and just about volunteered her shirt, too, when a deafening blast suddenly hit after a couple very mild ones. Then we were off to one of my favourite beaches in Australia, probably second after the Whitsundays – that is the Green Pools. The water was perfect, sheltered, and green, the sand white, and boulders were strewn everywhere, perfect for diving around and having a great time. The one boulder was a bit of a trick to climb but I got up my first time and had a couple jumps.

Not bad for a morning out. By noon, we were at a honey winery, sampling some tasty and some less tasty wines. I really liked their medium-dry wine, but I already have a bottle sitting in wait for my return to Perth. We were off to the toffee factory next for toffee and lunch, though lunch was hurried by a sudden downpour. Thankfully the rain let up long enough for us to do the treetop walk in the Valley of the Giants, which climbs up to 40m above the canopy. It was developed because the tingle trees below have some very delicate roots which don’t like being walked on all that much, and it’s become a huge attraction down here. Much more exciting was the diamond tree down the road, where you could climb 65 metres on pegs drilled into the side of the tree with no safety net really. It was the scariest thing I’ve done in Australia but really a great experience. That night, we had a house to ourselves and therefore a party and a big dinner to go with it. We played 20 questions and I was first Chewie and then Spock, which I guess means they’ve discovered I’m a geek. We all had a lot of fun that night.

Our final day we stopped at a chocolate factory, Flying Fish winery in Margaret River, and an aboriginal centre. The aboriginal centre has to be the best one of its kind in Australia, very hands-on and visual, including a tool-making demonstration. The amount of things they used the trees and rocks for is astounding – they even found a tree which could deoxygenate the water temporarily and thus send fish to the surface where they could easily be scooped. We also learned about their barbaric but effective punishment of crime. Steal a boomerang? Two warriors were dispatched to find you and bring you and it back, whereupon your hand was placed on a rock and another rock at the end of a stick was brought down with full force on your dominant hand, breaking every single bone and identifying you as a thief after you’d been outcast. No second chances here. If you managed to escape, you knew that after two weeks a family member would be taking the punishment for you. Prisons were not an issue.

Finally, we stopped by the Ngili caves which were quite spectacular. Lots of recording has been done down here and I can see why, the acoustics are great, nevermind the ambience. Our final stop was Busselton Jetty, the longest jetty in the world stretching 2km into the ocean. We got some ice cream, a group photo or two, and returned to Perth that Friday night. Saturday morning brought three hours of talk with everyone back home, some errands in the city, and a trip to Matilda Bay to collect my iPod, final pay and tips – which for some reason Belinda had sent away to the office instead of leaving for me to collect – and say goodbye. I got a ride back to the city with a couple of the chefs, ran a few errands, and went home where I ordered Eagle Boys pizza delivery and cracked open my bottle of Rockford Basket Press Shiraz. Janine was home not long after and we watched a show or two and finished the wine, which was much better with company.

Sunday, I met with some of the people from my tour and Janine for my first and last Sunday session – a Perth staple – in Cottlesloe. I met some of Janine’s and Daren’s friends there as well as a few of the tour folk, we had some drinks in the hot sun, played pool with some crazy Aussies, and before I knew it the sun was down on my trip to Australia. I was at the airport at seven Monday morning, on a Garuda Airlines flight by nine, and somewhere between scenes of the inflight movie (The Ex) I caught my last glimpse of Australia, a reverse oasis; a sprawling desert paradise in my middle of the ocean, an immense piece of land so large that it is largely taken for granted and forgotten. I looked back out the window again; an empty ocean stared back at me.

Southwest Australia Photos

Western Far

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tasmania disappeared on the horizon as I winged my way back to Melbourne on Friday, Jan 19. I had four days to say a final farewell to Melbourne before returning to Perth, work, and one last month in Australia. I caught up with Alex at his place, where he was kind enough to let me crash again. We were going to go out that night but Alex was still under the weather a bit from the night prior, so I met up with Andrew in St. Kilda and grabbed a few drinks and some food. Sunday was spent wandering around Melbourne, stopping, of course, at Stalactites for a souvlaki and to say hello to Paris, Nicole, and Vicky. I spent the next day home fixing up some of the very major problems that appeared when we moved FrankBlack.Net to a new server. In fact, I spent day and night doing that, which was a big pain, but it was a relief to finally have it working again and one less monkey on my back. Tuesday morning I met up with Melinda to go to the Australian Open tennis. She brought a full picnic once again from the Victoria markets and we watched several matches in the very reasonably priced outdoor. I’m not much of a tennis fan, but there were players there that even I recognized. Sharapova was playing in the much more pricey arena that night and Melinda and I managed to catch a game between the Williams sisters and some Chinese doubles. It was great to see these athletes so closely doing what they do better than almost anyone. I caught up with Catherine for a beer or two at Transport bar, once more with Andrew (I was trying to meet up with Ferg as well, but it just didn’t work out) and then I was off the next morning (Jan 23) back to Perth.

My first day back at work was Jan 27, the day after Australia Day. Daren picked me up at the airport, which was very good of him. I should mention that Alex also dropped me off at the airport in Melbourne, which was likewise very appreciated – it’s a pain getting very expensive shuttles really early in the morning to and from the airport. I had drinks with Daren and Janine that evening, spent the next day running around town getting some errands done (including immunizations for Asia!) and clothes cleaned, and Friday went into Matilda Bay for Adam’s farewell dinner. I probably – ok, I definitely – had a drink or two too many on an empty stomach. There was food, but it was all finger foods and as a result of one of my shots I hadn’t eaten anything all day except that. So it was that the next morning, Australia Day, I was in dire need of a greasy breakfast. Daren obliged in the traditional Australian fashion – a BBQ.

Meanwhile, it turned out that another friend from Saskatoon was in Perth, Brett Marcoux, and we had arranged to meet up at Daren’s Australia Day party and bring some Canadian camaraderie to this celebration of Australiana. It was a great day, and I was glad to not only be at Daren’s for it, but in Perth, where it’s probably the biggest holiday of the year. I caught Sydney’s New Years fireworks and I caught Perth’s Australia Day fireworks. Not to mention two BBQs of goodies, some great home brewed beer by Dazza, and various shenanigans on the foreshore of South Perth. Brett crashed at Daren’s and took the bus with me in the morning as I rode off to work. My first day back at work I was a little nervous about, but I really hadn’t forgotten as much as I was afraid I may have. And comically enough, the next day on the bus to work, who should be sitting there but Brett. The strangeness of this occurrence was a little overwhelming. When I got off the bus yesterday to transfer, he had stayed on. The girl behind us had heard us talking and discovered that we were both Canadians and Brett was looking for somewhere to stay that night. She invited him to tag along with her for the day (they were both Fremantle bound) and he wound up staying at her place, not far up the road from Daren’s, the next night. So it was that leaving her place that morning he was on the same bus line and at the same time as me.

I didn’t see much of anyone or anything but work until that Sunday when a day I had long been looking forward to finally arrived: Big Day Out. Yes, this landmark of Australian music festivals was bringing Arcade Fire, Spoon, Augie March, Paul Kelly, Rage Against The Machine, and more right to Perth, and I had a ticket. Brett had a ticket. Daren and Janine and their friends had tickets. Avram had a ticket. Friends from work all had tickets. It was going to be a great day. We arrived in style, Beno, one of Daz’s friends, drove us in nice and early and we beat the lines for tickets, drinks, and several small bands I was hoping to see. I met up with Brett and we saw Spoon and Arcade Fire together. Both were disappointing, but I feel that this is the nature of festivals. Like traveling, a festival is akin to a whirlwind tour of Europe. You see all the sights but don’t really experience the culture. Whereas an individual show is more like sitting at the cafĂ© and really absorbing one band.

Add to this that Arcade Fire’s sound and energy is lost on a grand plain with lots of people who know them only in name and weren’t really too excited and Spoon was relegated to a small stage that was largely forgotten and it explains why, I suppose. Don’t get me wrong, I quite enjoyed seeing them live, both were great, it just wasn’t what I was hoping for. The only band that really impressed me was Paul Kelly, and I think that was because he was up against Rage. I would’ve stuck around for Rage but I could neither see nor be close to them in any way, it was like everyone at the festival was there for them. So Paul Kelly’s fans were excited, ravenous, and, let’s face it, the man put on a great show. He reminds me a bit of FB&C’s, which is a good thing, and I am thoroughly happy I checked him out instead of hanging out so I could name-check Rage in my “bands I’ve seen – sort of” list.

After Big Day Out, there’s little to report. I’ve been working as much as possible to save up for Asia, I’ve discovered that I should get about half the tax I’ve paid back, I’m now (hopefully) immune to several unpleasant Asian afflictions, and I have my tickets booked. I fly to Denpasar (Bali) on Feb 25th, to Singapore (tentatively) on Mar 18th, and home from Beijing (subject to change) on Aug 5th. I also booked a whirlwind tour of the south west, the as yet only remaining area of Australia for me to explore. Well, sure, there are plenty of things I missed, like the Simpson desert and outback New South Wales for a start, but I feel like, with this done, I will have seen everything I wanted to here in Australia. Meanwhile, Brett has taken off to New Zealand, leaving on Friday Feb 8. We were supposed to go to Rottnest that day but it didn’t work out with his flight, so instead we grabbed lunch at Little Creatures Brewery – chili mussels and two pizzas. And many more beer. It was a great way to spend an afternoon, and a very Perth thing to do. We’ll hopefully meet up somewhere in Asia for a few days, it was great to catch up with him and I’m sure we’ll both have plenty more stories by then.

Daren likewise is gone, which means I’m looking after his place. It would be nice to have him around but he’s up north with Janine doing a little travel of his own, and it is also nice to have a place to myself. I haven’t really had much of that as you might imagine. Still, there are times I’d like to come home and have someone to have a drink with. I guess you can’t have it both ways. At this point I have two shifts left of work – Valentine’s Day and Sunday the 17th. I can’t believe how fast the end is coming to my year in Australia. I can’t believe how fast one year came and went since I left home on Jan 15th. A lot has happened at home and abroad since then including the passing of my pappou – my Greek grandfather – one year to the day after my departure from Canada. I discovered this when I made a payphone call from Lake St Clair in Tasmania to wish my mom a happy birthday on the 17th of Jan, which was the 16th back home. They’d been trying to get a hold of me and of course I was out of reception completely. I never did get to know him all that well as a result of my poor Greek and his poor English, and that’s probably what is most upsetting about it. But the world keeps spinning down here as up there and each day brings change. I will have to spend some time with my aunts and uncles when I get home to try and piece together some of that history so that it is not lost to me for good.

But looking back at my own history, in particular this last year and all the adventures I’ve undertaken across this great land, life has been good, it has been interesting, and it has been better than I could wish for. Perfect by no means, but perhaps better. I hope that everyone following along is likewise finding and doing things they enjoy in this grand adventure we have all of us embarked upon, and I look forward to our trails crossing in the future. Until then, my path will continue to be charted here as I finish in Australia and venture into the Asian unknown.

Australia Day Photos
Big Day Out Photos