Drinking in Dunsborough, diving with seals in Albany, hanging out and sightseeing around Esperence, and visa hassles in Perth. My last weeks in Australia were certainly action packed . . . and now it's all behind me!
Whilst in Dunsborough I made friends with Australian Chad, who solved my dilemma of whether or not to go on a wine tour by kindly taking me out on a day's sightseeing and wine tasting. We also visited a dead whale, which had impressively managed to beach itself on rocks some considerable distance from the sea - how it had got there we weren't quite sure. Due to careless planning, we went out on our wine tasting extravaganza the day before I left for Albany, so it was with a sore head and fragile stomach that I boarded the bus.
The backpackers in Albany was a confusing maze of a building, where every wall was covered in murals, including a particularly scary one in the kitchen of a blue Pierrot doll on a trapeze. I am not sure whether this picture had anything to do with it, but one of the guests at the hostel appeared to have lost his mind, poor fella. He had slipped into a bizarre paranoid world, where everything was a set up - the Salvation Army and 'the people off the telly' were apparently behind it. I know this as my room was near the 'phone, and he spent many hours and god knows how many dollars calling up his mum and his Auntie Cheryl, shouting at them that he had had enough, and he had already bought the razor blades and was not afraid to use them. I'm sure I was not the only one who made good and sure my door was locked that night.
The in-house entertainment aside, my main purpose for being in Albany was diving, and I made arrangements with one of the outfits in town, AlbanyDive.com. I decided to do three days diving, and started by doing the HMAS Perth, a sizeable ship that had been down for some time (a bit short on facts there, sorry). Apart from anything else, this really made me appreciate how lucky I had been to dive the HMAS Swan with another instructor, as my buddy this time around spent the whole time either bumping into me or the boat, kicking up the silt as he went. This is basically my excuse for not getting any good shots inside the boat! Outside though, I managed to get a few of the cute little blennies that live on the ship, poking their heads out from bits of pipe and being generally very adorable. The next day I did another two dives, including one at Seal Cove, so named - believe it or not - because it is inhabited by seals and sealions. Toward the end of the dive these playful creatures came to investigate us, speeding towards us and swooping around us . It was a wonderful encounter, and has to be one of my diving highlights. Even apart from this I was most impressed with the diving, and the range of fish life and colourful soft coral here. And to think, if things had worked out in Exmouth, I'd have missed out on all this.
I didn't spend my whole time under the water though. I hired a car for a day, and went off to explore the surrounding area. I started off at Two Peoples Bay, where unfortunately the rain obscured any views. It soon cleared up though, leaving sunshine for the rest of the day while I explored the nooks and crannies of the spectacular coastline. I'm not sure what it says about me, that the highlight of my day was my visit to the wind farm, but it is the truth. I've known for some time that I have a bit of a thing about electricity-generating windmills, but it was only today on getting up close to the beauties that I realised it was a full blown fetish, equalling my bridge fetish, if not surpassing it. The majestic machines sit up on a hill (naturally - much good they would do in the shelter of a valley) a few miles from Albany. Parking spots sit just beneath the foremost one, and a number of lookouts and boardwalks; the amount of cars parked there go to show that I am not the only one to find them interesting - although that is really too mild a word for how I feel about them. I was far too excited to stand around reading the information boards, so I'm afraid I am unable to spout facts and figures about how much energy they create (damn and blast, I hear you cry). I eagerly craned my neck up at these marvellous moving mechanical monoliths, and gleefully explored, trying to enjoy them from every possible angle.
There's something supremely soothing in their sleek lines, and the ceaseless spinning of their sails. Try saying that when you're drunk! I felt like a kid in a candy shop, gazing up at these gorgeous monstrosities as I wandered around the paths. I found the great whooshing resonance of their rotating sails hypnotic. If I positioned myself up close to the front one, and in line with the sweeping arms, the vhoom-vhoom-vhoom lulled me in a most relaxing way. The sound was similar to that which you hear just before you pass out, when the noise inside your head drowns out that from outside, and all you hear is the throbbing as your blood flows through your veins. Not that I'm saying passing out is relaxing . . . although I guess in its most literal sense, relaxing is exactly what it is. Maybe I am better describing it as reminiscent of being safely tucked away in the womb, for anyone that can remember that. From another angle, not far away, it sounded almost exactly like the tardis before it materialised, or as it disappeared to another dimension. When I walked further into the wind farm, nearer to where the other machines stood, I could hear their voices calling me, bringing to mind aliens, and telepathic communications. I liked the wind farm a lot. Can you tell?
From Albany I set off for Esperance, a town I enjoyed a lot. I had planned to dive here, but the only dive boat in town had set off on a ten day trip the day before, so I had to make do with being landlocked. A budget car hire company operates in the town, "80's cars for 80's prices" is their slogan. For $70 plus a wee bit more in extra mileage I got use of an old banger for a couple of days, and set off to explore the Cape Le Grand National Park and just a little further along the coast, the Duke of Orleans Bay, which I actually preferred to the Park. My favourite place was Wharton Beach, where I arrived at the time of day where the light takes on that magical golden quality, and becomes so thick you can almost sink your teeth into it. On the second day I headed in the other direction to the Great Ocean Drive, formerly known as the tourist loop, and spent the whole day on the 37 km drive, stopping frequently to take pictures and just enjoy the splendid surroundings. There was a windfarm here too - Esperance was actually the first place in Australia to experiment with wind power. Unfortunately it was not as accessible as Albany's, although I did manage to have a bit of a look around.
I stayed in a great place in Esperance, which used to be a full-on backpackers called Shoestring Stays. Now though the owners are on the verge of selling, and have made it more of a guest house, although the price was still very reasonable. There were only a few people staying, so I had a room to myself and was able to spread my crap out on the other two beds. Whilst there myself and my Dutch friend Ron made sushi, which was really simple and most yummy - I used to think sushi was all raw fish, but it's not at all. Also managed to watch a number of films (all those chosen by me were, of course, horrors), and go to the rather peculiar museum in town. At first glance it looks like a whole heap of junk, but there was actually some interesting and diverse stuff there.
After more than a week, with my remaining days in Australia drawing short, it was time to move on, and I took the bus inland to my next destination of Kalgoorlie. Not having learnt my lesson one jot, I found myself with a stinking hangover for the journey, which oddly enough only left me once I had dragged myself and my bags from the bus stop to the nearest hostel, some ten minutes away. I cursed the ubiquitous anti-pedestrianism as I dragged my dive bag behind me, walking in the road due to the lack pavement. Being the nearest one to the transportation terminus, my hostel was predictably situated in Kal's red light district . . . although unlike similar experiences in Thailand and Mexico, at least this place was not being used as a brothel, though it had once been one, apparently. I spent only a couple of days here, visiting the Mining Hall of Fame, Superpit and the museum - which for reasons that remained obscure housed an exhibition on lighthouses. I also managed stupidly to slam my thumb in a car door whilst there, and expect to be sporting the resultant black nail for some time to come.
I got the Prospector train back to Perth. The scenery was pleasant during the eight hour journey, though the train itself nothing to write home about. On arrival at Perth East I discovered that neither of the numbers I had for two separate hostels were operating, so called the only hostel to advertise there. Murray Street Backpackers was described as "Perth's best kept secret", and promised new beds, free pick up and free email amongst other things; the pictures didn't look to bad either. The guy on the 'phone said the free pickup was only if you stayed a week - I said fine. When we got back to the centrally located building, the owner, relieved me of my cash and handed me a list of the numerous rules and regulations, drawing a circle around the bit that said 'no refunds'. I had some inkling of why he had stressed this once I got to the dorm - dire is the word that springs to mind.
Still it was very central, and cheap, and you know by the time I left the place had even grown on me! I can honestly say I have never been to a hostel with so many notices. There were the ones in the kitchen about cleaning up after yourself, not removing cups, not stealing food, not leaving stuff to drip dry, turning off the gas, labelling food and many many more - a lot threatened eviction with no refund, and they were of course all duplicated in Japanese. There were lists in each room claiming to be set out by the Health Regulations Act which included not leaving clothes on the floor or using power points, and on almost every light switch in the place was a note saying "if you can turn on, you can turn off". Then of course there was the sign on the door to the room housing the free email - out of order the whole time I was there - which stated:-
This Internet Room and FREE EMAIL SERVICE is CLOSED
Until further Notice
This is due to the fact of an UNTRUSTWORTHY person SHINYO DEKINAI
This person cannot agree to the RULES.
Well!!! The aforementioned were just the tip of the iceberg. There was one female bathroom and two male ones for the three floors of guests. Only one of the two showers in there worked, and that was broken, in that the shower head had to be rested against the wall pointing outwards, providing an inadequate sprinkle. Oh, and the narrow dining room next to the kitchen (which the flyer claimed was a commercial kitchen, but I would have to dispute) doubled as the smoking room. Still the camp old owner with his dodgy eye and King Charles Spaniel called Charlie added to the character of the place.
On my first full day in Perth I had a few simple missions, namely to get my visa for the Philippines, to pick up my ticket from Royal Brunei's office, and to sort out getting my tax back. On arriving at the consul I discovered that I would most definitely not be allowed a visa without an onward ticket. Similarly at the airline office I was told that I could not be issued my ticket into Manila unless I had a ticket out of there. I also received the unhappy news that Brunei Airlines are incredibly strict on baggage limits and that $15 is charged per kilo excess. In the Flight Centre I discovered that I could only get a ticket from Manila to London with KLM, and that once I had booked it I would not be able to change the date. While I wanted to stay in the Philippines for six months, I would only be able to apply for a 59 day visa, and whilst the likelihood was that getting an extension out there would not pose a problem, there was no guarantee that this would be the case, making my booking a ticket a bit of a gamble.
Finally I went to see an accountant, who told me quite brusquely that there was no point in applying to get my tax back, as I would get next to nothing anyway. This was the final straw and I promptly burst into tears like the big girly wuss that I am. Then she seemed to feel somewhat guilty, and brought me a glass of water whilst running the figures through her computer. The long and the short of it is that from the $2,500 tax I paid, taking into account any GST (like VAT) that can be offset from the $5,000 odd I spent on dive gear, I shall get the grand sum of $250 back, give or take. Oh well, better than a slap in the face with a wet fish.
As to the other issues, I shall not bore you with the days of trials and tribulations I had to endure, days when it seemed that even the simplest task would go pear shaped. The end result is that I had to ship my dive bag as unaccompanied baggage, to the tune of $200 - the good news is that I have received word that it is ready and waiting for me in Manila - and I have booked my flight home. I shall touch down in Blighty on 3rd November, and will be available for drinks, parties, weddings and barmitzvas shortly after. It was a rather expensive and harrowing week, but it seemed to all get sorted in the end.
It wasn't all drama's though, I managed to fit some sightseeing in - King's Park, the Swan Bell Tower where I got to have a quick tug (!), the art gallery and the museum. As you would expect, there was also some drinking too. I met up with Liam and Mullet from the Africa trip and we had a good few drinks and a natter about old times as well as catching up on what's been happening over the last year. Liam is in his first semester at university, and Mullet - who had hair! - is well on the way to becoming a property tycoon.
Eventually the time came for me to leave Australia, and earlier today I flew into Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei, where I have 17½ hours to wait for my two hour flight to Manila. I pre booked a room at the airport, despite being warned in advance that it would be windowless and probably dirty - I figured it couldn't be any worse that some of the places I've stayed, and I wasn't wrong. OK so I had to chase a cockroach out on my arrival, but I'm a lot less squeamish about them than I used to be (Erica the bug killer was right - it's just all part of life in the tropics, eh Cheryl?). What I hadn't counted on though was the ghastly muzak being blasted out of the speaker right outside my door - it was playing nice, mellow classical stuff an hour ago, but now it's this awful crap, including the obligatory rendition of Careless Whisper. I've stuffed toilet paper in my ears, and have my fingers crossed that it will stop once the last flight of the evening arrives at 0020 - or preferably earlier.
Well I reckon I'll leave this here. I'll try and send it off in the morning.
Before I go though, I'd just like to say thanks to all the special people I met and re-met during my time in Oz. Thank you for making my time there memorable.
I wonder what the Philippines has in store . . . ?