Friday, 2 March 2012

Have I offended the gods?

I find myself stranded in a little South Australian town called Mannum because Dominus is on his last legs and in a place like this the mechanics close on Friday lunch time and do not open again until Monday morning.
Therefore, as I told the receptionist at the caravan park, we are f*cked, so what else to do but get stuck into the blog.

I decided upon this title for the post because over the next few days our road-trip it seemed as though the 7 plagues of Egypt were descending upon us – well not quite but you will get the idea as we go on.

It is Thursday 12th Jan 2012 and we leave Ningaloo Marine Park looking forward to what other wildlife treats may be in store for us after our turtle adventures.
The answer to this question literally came in its thousands as we hit the highway and headed south to Coral Bay. We entered the locust plague just outside of Exmouth and we didn’t get through it for approximately 1 hour. At first we were a little daunted by what we were seeing but after 10 minutes it was quite fun watching thousands of locusts leaping over the highway and striking the van at every angle. All we heard for 1 hour was ‘ding’, ‘ting’, ‘ping’ as they either bounced off the front grill, hit windscreen, clung onto the windscreen wipers and gave us the evil eye or they hit the side of the van forcing us to do our windows up in the 90+ degree heat and we had no air-con!!

Once through the storm we pulled into the nearest roadhouse to get some petrol and to clean the windscreen. It was a new experience for me to walk around the van with a stick fishing all of the dead, maimed and still living locusts from the van.
The rest of our journey was pretty eventful too. We swerved past numerous lizards basking in the sun of the road as well as stopping the van in the middle of nowhere so that I could get some snaps of a huge monitor lizard.
One of my favourite moments of the trip also occurred on this leg of the journey when a huge wedge-tail eagle took flight and flew right beside the van as we cruised down the highway – you just don’t see that sort of thing everyday.

We arrived in the seaside town of Coral Bay by midday and before we realised it we had driven though it. Coral Bay is a very small town that stretches for only 200 metres along the coastline but for such a small place is it very popular.
The place was packed with Aussie holidaymakers enjoying the last couple of weeks of the school summer holidays (remember it is back to front here and the kids have Xmas in their summer holidays).
There isn’t anything going on in the town except for lazy days beside the turquoise ocean lying on a pure white beach – I am sure you can see a theme here with the state of the beaches?
With nothing else to do we parked up the van in a nice little caravan park – this town was too small to get away with free camping – and hit the beach. It was a pretty chilled day and the only action was me nearly stepping on a stingray in the shallows Steven Irwin stylee, but not quite.
By 3pm we were fed up of the blazing sun so we decided that we to do what we do best – get drunk. We sat in the shade of Dominus and drank a lot of wine, some via drinking games and some just because our cup was full and it needed emptying.
By early evening we were well on our way so off we marched to the one and only pub in Coral Bay and continued to drink. I don’t remember an awful lot of the night except that there was a video jukebox and I was pumping the dollars into it so that could watch and listen to some decent English music such as Pulp, Kasabian, Muse and New Order.
Later that night plague number 2 hit, floods, and at this point I am going to take the unprecedented blog action of handing you over to Miss Arancha Joulian to explain what happened as I have a very hazy recollection:

Hi peoples, let me tell you like it is. So I awoke at around 2.30am with Adam pacing up and down outside the van looking somewhat perplexed. I asked him straight out, “what the hell ‘s going on?” He responded, still drunk and repeating the words “I don’t know what I’ve done, I don’t know what I’ve done.”
So looking very dubious, I put my hands on the bed only to have my hand drenched in some type of liquid. So giving him the benefit of the doubt (not sure why) I asked him if he had somehow spilt the entire content of a 2 litre bottle of water onto the mattress. He responded, “I don’t know what I’ve done….I’m not sure, I don’t think it was me!!“ hmmm ok?!
So I removed myself from the van and made Adam sit on the chair whilst I removed the sheets to only then find that the wee had soaked all the way from the back of his knees to his pillow leaving the mark of his head and the back of his hair drenched in piss!! I then had to take the mattress out from the van whilst he was still slurring the same words and feeling a little sorry for himself. I took the soaked pillowcase off, turned the pillow over so he could use the other side, took both of our inflatable camping mats to sleep on and used the sleeping bags as our sheets. To top that off, Adam’s cause was not helped by a tree that had leaked its sap all over one side of the mattress sealing the urine within for the rest of the road trip.
Nice work Lamby, you have outdone yourself!!
(Latner, don’t even try to pick fault with this, I have seen your messaging on fb!)

Hey, it’s me again.
I awoke at 9:30am in a seriously inebriated state which was not welcome when it’s really hot outside, you are in a hot van and aching because the mattress isn’t there and you are not sure how your bird is going to treat you as you wet yourself during the night like a child/old man.
Fortunately for me Arancha has a very good sense of humour and she was cool with the situation and only a little disgusted. We left Coral Bay with me rolling from side to side in the passenger seat trying to get some more sleep and continued south.
During this stretch of road we crossed the Tropic of Cancer but I was asleep so missed it. Apparently it was a decent sign!

About 200kms south of Coral Bay we came upon god’s wrath part 3 as we hit a roadblock. A bushfire was raging through the outback so along with dozens of other travelers we could do nothing else but sit it out and wait at the roadhouse. We sat it out for 5 hours!!!!
The first hour was painful but after I had thrown up it wasn’t all that bad. We sat around, watched test cricket on the tv (that’s how bored we were) and read through the guidebook to make sure that we missed nothing on our future travels.

During our day out at the roadhouse in the outback we ordered some sandwiches and as I sat down I said to Arancha that I hate it when you can see your food being prepared in the kitchens, which we could.
As she asked me why this was I watched the fat biatch in the kitchen pour too much sweet chilli sauce on my sandwich, spread it around with her finger, lick that finger and then pick up some salad and continue to make the sandwich with her bare hands.
My answer to Arancha was that is the reason why!
As the food was handed to us I asked the bloke if he thought it was acceptable that his staff did that and he just shrugged and asked if I wanted a new one. I really couldn’t be arsed with it all so I just took it and told him to make sure he had a word with her.
By late afternoon the road was finally open and we were on our way to Carnarvon.
The Rough Guide travel book describes Carnarvon as a rough and ready place where there can be fighting in the streets on a Friday night. Well we didn’t see any fighting but there was definitely an unsettling atmosphere to the place. For example, in the supermarket car park we saw 3 youths and a drunken aboriginal guy abusing some travellers in their campervan. Needless to say, we parked on the opposite side of the car park.
As we had arrived late in the day all we did that evening was cook our dinner down by the ocean, in view of a homeless guy who kept staring at us, and then drove around until we found a place to free camp.

Whilst camped on the roadside we settled down to watch a film when all of a sudden there was a huge bang on the side of the van quickly followed by another. After shitting ourselves I jumped out of the van in my boxers to find a group of about 20 youths throwing mangos at Dominus, the little gits. Fortunately, they were already bored and I only had to duck out of the way of one more mango whilst I stood there looking really hard in just my undies.
Still, we were over Carnarvon and I we had only been there for a few hours. To ensure we did not receive any late night visits from the little mofo’s I climbed into the front of the van whilst her ladyship lay in the back and drove us to an industrial estate and parked us in a nowhere sort of place so we could at least sleep in peace!
The next morning we found ourselves back in the town centre at the Visitor Info Centre. I had heard an advert on the radio for a Space Technology Museum so even though the town was a bit scummy I didn’t anticipate encountering them in a museum.
At the info centre I discovered that I definitely would not be hanging out with any dodgy types at the museum because it wasn’t even built yet. The advert was part of the fundraising for the construction of it!
So that was that for Carnarvon, we were out of there.
One detour that we did take before we left the area was to a blowhole. We drove 50kms out into an area by the coastline that resembled the surface of the moon and as usual we had everything to ourselves.
The blowhole was really good. The sheer power of the ocean forcing itself up between the cracks in the rocks and then shooting 30 feet up into the air and creating it’s own rainbows was excellent. Because I am a classy individual I made Arancha take photos of me imitating a moment of self-pleasure at the moment of the blowhole eruption (I am sorry mother but other people read the blog too and the photos are actually quite amusing).
To complete the superb setting a dolphin joined the party by jumping out of the ocean in the distance. Sweet.

Back in Dominus the next stop was Shark Bay and to the site of one of the main reasons that I came to Australia and Western Aus in particular. A few years ago I was sat in my front room in London looking out of the window (at another building crammed up against us) watching a David Attenborough documentary. On the documentary Dave was lying next to some stone pillars called Stromatolites, which were the first life forms to photosynthesise ie. take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen as a bi-product of the process.
The Stromatolites first appeared 3.5billion years ago and at this time the level of oxygen in the atmosphere was only 2%. Over the next 2.5 billion years these little bad-boys photosynthesised enough to raise the atmospheric oxygen levels to 21%, the level that they are today and therefore enabling complex life forms to evolve and exist like us. There are only 2 places in the world where Stromatotlites still exist and one of them is Shark Bay.
From the moment I saw this documentary I told myself that one day I would take the pilgrimage and pay homage to these life forms that are the sole reason that life was able to evolve on earth – and today was to be that day!

We pulled up to World Heritage listed Shark Bay National Park at midday and the sun was blazing down. It was another 40+ degree day and all I wanted to do was hide inside a cool and damp room.
In order to get to the Stromatolite pools we had the added bonus of walking there via a coral bay quarry. Shark Bay is also one of only a few places in the world where beaches containing billions upon billions of coral shells have compacted under the weight of each to form a 10 metre layer so hard that the local area can quarry the beach and build using bricks formed from these shells.
I would have found this quite fascinating if not for the fact that I had lost my sunglasses and the whiteness of the shells reflecting the sunlight was blinding me as I walked.
Then we were there! I tentatively took my first steps on to the boardwalk that stretched out into the bay and looked down to see these simple rocks that are why we are all here. Ok, it wasn’t as emotional as that but it was still very cool to be there and to be in a place where I had told myself I would get to one day.

The other reason for heading to this outcrop of land that forms the most westerly point of the Australian mainland was to visit Monkey Mia, a place where you can hang with the pod of wild dolphins that visit the shores on a daily basis to feed. Those of you who read my blog will recall that I wrote a blog post from here 2 posts ago, illustrating how far behind I am with updating you all on my activities.

That night we planned to stay over in Denham, situated 21kms Monkey Mia, as it was the weekend meaning that the resort would be too busy for us. We had grown very used to having everything to ourselves and we liked it that way.
On the way to Denham we stopped at Eagle Bluff, a blustery cliff side lookout over the ocean where it’s possible to see Dugongs (sea cows).
We didn’t see any Dugong’s but we did get to see the little island just offshore that was stripped bare. Apparently back in the day (late 1800’s) the Brits would sail all the way over here just to dig up the copious amounts of Guano (bird poo) because at the time it was more valuable than gold – true dat!
Denham itself was a nice enough place, a little seaside town set within the national park and we found ourselves in a caravan park where our back garden was the beach.
Because it was Saturday night and the Rough Guide had recommended one particular restaurant as something special we decided to treat ourselves and dine out for once. We got dressed up, in Australia that’s a t-shirt and shorts, not a vest, and walked 200 metres to the town centre.
We looked at the menu outside and got quite excited as it looked very tasty indeed. Just as we approached the entrance the waitress came over and this is how the conversation went:
Waitress: “Sorry, we wont be able to serve you tonight”
Me: (looking into the restaurant and seeing only 3 tables full and it is 7:30pm) “Surely you aren’t booked out are you, it doesn’t look like it?”
Waitress: “No it isn’t that, we just can’t be bothered tonight and we fancy closing up early”
Me: “Are you serious? I don’t think that is any way to run a business”
Waitress: “Sorry”, turns and walks off.

Can you believe that? I guess it’s fair enough if you can afford to do that but it was only 7:30pm and how long does it take to prepare a medium-rare steak?
Anyway, we ate at the local pub and it was ok but not the high quality food we had looked forward to. I tell you, the level of customer service in WA is shocking.

We had a leisurely morning on the Sunday and drove over to Monkey Mia via the Little Lagoon – an inshore lagoon home to a number of different fish species, particularly the Stonefish, which isn’t great when you are bare footed.

The rest of that day was spent relaxing at the Monkey Mia resort looking out to sea, observing the numerous emus and completing the aforementioned blog post.

7am the next morning and we were back on the beachfront alongside100 other people and it didn’t take long for 8 dolphins including 3 calves to show up.
The whole experience was somewhat disappointing though, it was all far too Disneyland and controlled. You could only stand ankle deep in the water and everyone was in a single line vying for a decent spot. The first feeding session lasted about 45mins and it was good from the point of view that the dolphins swam within 2 metres of us but it just wasn’t the same as getting close to them when you swim with them, which I did in Mexico.
The second feeding session was slightly better but only because the majority of the crowds had disappeared for breakfast.
By 9am we had seen enough and departed the area for the next place along the coast.
Kalbarri was a really nice seaside town and probably one of the favourite places we had visited to date. It was a picturesque place and the first town along the coast that had anything resembling green, healthy fauna and grass, which you do not really notice is missing until you are walking bare foot over it and all you want to do it find a footy to have a little kick about.
Kalbarri is home to a couple of national parks, one is inland based around a huge river gorge, which was spectacular, and the other along the coastline itself.
That afternoon we ventured to the river gorge and visited Nature’s Window, a naturally formed hole in the rocks that sits at the very top of the sandstone cliffs that overlooks the gorge. The setting was one of those that will always stick with you and be one of the things that you daydream about.

The evening was just another case of cooking by the ocean and free camping in the middle of nowhere under the endless stars – yawn, yawn, how boring!

Part of the reason for visiting Kalbarri was to do a day’s trek and because we had visited the river gorge the previous day we decided to do the coastal track. In hindsight this was a mistake, the coastline was nowhere near as dramatic as the river gorge that resembled a mini Grand Canyon but we were there so we completed a 16km flat walk and that was that, enough said.

To cool down post-trek we drove down to a renowned snorkelling beach but upon arrival the sea was looking a little dicey. Arancha was sensible and decided against venturing in but I on the other hand suffered some decent coral cuts and saw only 4 fish as I got battered against the rocks. I think my snorkel session lasted approximately 10 mins.

One of the great things about Arancha is that she doesn’t like to dwell in one place for too long. Fine by me, I just want to experience the main attractions and get onto the next adventure asap. Like most of the places we passed through, 24 hours was enough and Kalbarri was done. Back into Dominus and off we go, next stop Geraldton.
One thing to mention about the journey to ‘Gero’ was passing a pink lake! It was one of the many salt lakes that we saw on our travels but this was the only bright pink lake that I will probably ever see.

Geraldton; not much to say about it really. We arrived late afternoon and the first item of note was that we saw our first McDonald’s in 2 weeks, which made us think of how refreshing it was to be in a world where you do not see that shithole of a place on every street corner.
The next morning we were up and out of the van for a run along the seafront before collecting our gear and showering by the beach as we watched the early morning swimmers. I think that shower was one of those moments where you look about and laugh at the life that you have. It might be basic living like a gypo out of a van and cooking BBQ’s every night in a park or by the sea but the sense of freedom is something that I can’t really put into words.
Actually, maybe I can and these would be the words; “maybe tomorrow I want to settle down but until tomorrow I’ll just keep moving on…”

This part of the WA coastline was another of those notorious shipwreck hotspots and the WA Museum in Geraldton had a whole section dedicated to the subject. There were some really interesting stories about post shipwreck mutinies, kidnapping and stolen treasure that occurred all along these shores during the times of the first explorers, as well as memorials to more recent disasters such as the HMS Sydney that was sunk by a German u-boat during WWII killing everyone on board and was one of the worst war events to occur within Australian territory.

Next stop was Greenough, a pioneer village famous for its pubs, convict built bridge and leaning trees. The trees are about as large as a small acorn tree but due to the strong westerly winds and poor soil they begin to lean after growing to about 4 feet tall and then continue to grow along the ground – a very strange sight.
We did venture to one of these pubs for a couple of pints and sat next to a local who actually said, “I am going to tell you a yarn”. A yarn? Who says that these days?
I can’t really remember the full details but the punch line was at my English expense.

The late afternoon and evening saw us camping at Ellendale Pool, one of the best natural watering holes that we visited because of the big rocky ledges to jump off and the two rope swings. The only negative was that if the water temperature reached 28 degrees it produced a fatal form of meningitis!!
Sorry lads, the water wasn’t that warm whilst I was there.

It was now Thursday 19th Jan and we were nearing Perth, the capital city of Western Australia. To get there we had to drive down the day-dreamily named Indian Ocean Highway. It actually wasn’t that special although some of the views were lovely but the reason for taking this route was to visit the infamous Pinnacles.

Before I continue with the Pinnacles I must just tell you about a woman who has just walked passed. She is a little Asian woman and she is scaring me a lot. She is walking along and must be schizophrenic as she having a two-way conversation with herself. That would be fine if it wasn’t for the fact that one of the voices is all distorted like her alternate ego is a poltergeist/possessed demonic child. Aaaggghhhhh!

As I was saying, the Pinnacles are thousands of rocky pillars that resemble a Freudian phallic fantasy. The scientists are still not sure how these pillars were formed but one theory is that they are the remains of a putrefied forest that was gradually turned to stone over thousands of years. However they were formed they are an impressive sight standing against the deep yellow sand and blue sky and are made even more impressive by the fact that as the sands shift they bury and uncover different sections. Apparently there are still acres of land that contain thousands more and are yet to be discovered.
We spent about 2 hours exploring the area and we even got to take Dominus on a little drive through the area so he could see them as well.
I think he enjoyed it and we both look happy in the pictures but he doesn’t say much.

The next 24 hours were spent in a sleepy little town called Lancelin, famed for its surf beaches and sand boarding dunes. It was still roasting hot so it was an easy decision as to whether we surfed or boarded in the dunes, which can be 10 degrees hotter than the beach during the daytime. It was 40 degrees, so there was no way that we wanted to keep falling off a board and climbing back up the dunes in 50 degree heat.
The surfing was fun and we spent a good couple of hours in the ocean, 1hr 58 in the ocean and 2 minutes on the board.

We had been in Lancelin for around 22hrs and we were growing restless, so you can guess what came next.
During our drive, which we fully expected would take us to Perth, we passed a little road sign for the Gingin Observatory. I am a space geek and I had read that WA was great for star gazing so we turned off of the highway and took a few country roads up to the observatory, which also had a Gravity educational centre onsite (of course it did).

The crazy schizo just walked back and I just got cold shivers all down my spine when she looked me in the eye. Why is she freaking me out so much?

It was 4pm and the Gravity centre was due to close at 5pm but luckily for us the receptionist just happened to have emigrated from Coventry 5 years ago and after a little chat about home etc she offered us a reduced entrance fee and told us to let ourselves out. Whilst looking around and trying to ignore the fact that Arancha was seriously bored Cov’ lady came over to us and said that she had enquired about the observatory session for that evening and they had spaces available. Awesome.
With some time to kill until nightfall we did what any other backpacker would do – we went to the pub.

The Gingin Observatory experience was one of my favourite in my whole year in Australia. There would have been about 40 guests in total and we were treated to an educational talk about space, some really bad space jokes by the geeky Astronomers and then were taken outside to view the night sky.
The first part of the viewing was with the naked eye and via a super strength laser pen being shone into the sky to show us the constellations, the current planets on view and a few satellites passing overhead. I also didn’t realise that in such a dark environment as that in WA when you are looking up at the Milky Way there are 2 very faint circles of stars to the right hand side. These are in fact two galaxies other than our own that you can see with the naked eye.
It was so very very cool.
Next we got to look through 4 different telescopes at a range of different things. One was trained on Jupiter and you could actually see the stripes running across its surface as well as 4 of its moons. Another telescope focused on the Orion Nebula, which is one of the stars that forms the sword of Orion. This nebula is famous because it is a dust cloud in the shape of a horse head, hence it is known as the horse head nebula (funny that). What really blows your mind is when you are viewing it clearly through the telescope and you are informed that the dust cloud is in fact 300 million kilometres in length.

Whilst waiting to look through each telescope they had sets of binoculars that you could use and I never knew that if you look through some binoculars at one particular star that you can see with the naked eye, you will see dozens of others lurking next to it when focused in. I just never really considered it before even though it seems completely logical when you think about it.
It is not unusual to now see find us looking through our own binoculars when we are free camping in one of the many unpopulated areas that we seem to inhabit.

This night may not sound that great to you all but for me it was brilliant and we spent hours talking about what we had seen afterwards.

We awoke in a lay-by (as you do) and finally headed into Perth after our detour of the last couple of days.
Considering it has a business district of skyscrapers and is a state capital, it is a really small city. Still, it is a very beautiful city that is based by the water and I liked it a lot.
We decided to treat ourselves to a hotel for the night because as much as we love Dominus you do miss a real bed.
We had booked a room online but when we got to the hotel it looked like one of those apartment buildings that is full of latino esse’s in an 18 rated American film. We cancelled our booking and checked in to a much more upmarket place.
The rest of that day passed in a blur of bars and pubs as we got well and truly bladdered.
Whilst drinking on the main high street in Perth I got to see a real Aussie icon as Shane Warne walked passed. He looked awful. Liz has really messed him up and he looks like a manicured doll.

We spent the Sunday looking around the city, visited Perth Zoo (pretty decent) and then stayed over in the Perth seaside town of Scarborough. Like its English namesake you didn’t want to spend too much time there.

The next town down the coast was Cottesloe and this was much more to our taste. To try and rid ourselves of the weekend’s excesses we hired bikes and did a 42km ride by the coast. Going out was really nice and we got to sit and watch a sea eagle hovering and diving into the sea trying to catch some fish, which it failed at. However, the ride back was a killer due to a combination of a very strong headwind and a brutal bike seat that ruined me.

The city of Fremantle was next and this was where my previous blog post was written. As stated in the beginning of that post we had the good fortune to be able to stay with a university friend of Arancha’s who was on an artist residential stay at one of the oldest buildings in the city.
The building was constructed in the 1800’s and was originally a sheep sheering station back in the day. The architecture of the place was beautiful and it was a huge old stone building; quite a change from Dominus!
Fremantle itself is a great city and is very European in its architecture and general atmosphere. All in all we ended staying with Janet for 4 nights this was where we also spent Australia Day.

We didn’t do an awful lot in Fremantle because it was just too hot. For these 4 days the temperatures exceeded 45 degrees and everybody was struggling.

We happened to be walking down the high street on our second day in Fremantle when someone called out Arancha’s name. I suppose when people say that the world is quite a small place it is not too surprising that a friend of hers from Sydney had just arrived in Fremantle the day before. She had just graduated from uni as a geologist and had found a great graduate job working for a mining company in WA and along with her husband had decided to road-trip it to here from Sydney, passing through a lot of the sights that we were yet to encounter.
You won’t be surprised to hear that the day was lost with Jenny and Tim in the pub.

A couple of days later it was Australia Day and unlike St George’s Day in England the Aussie people are actually proud to celebrate their national day. They typically celebrate this day with BBQ’s, beer and fireworks and so did we. It was the pub for us and then to meet up with a good friend from Melbourne, Marnie, and her family to watch the fireworks by the harbour side.
We had moved out of the artist residency by this time so we had to sleep in the van on a residential road and it was probably our worst nights sleep due to the intolerable heat and the mosquitoes. By 2am we had had enough so we relocated to the beach to try and catch some form of breeze but it was non-existent.
By 5:30am the first alcoholics were in the car park drinking and the mosquitoes were still having a field day so we gave up and started to drive.
100kms later and in a new town we found a quiet little park with a willow tree to park under and we got the shuteye that was badly required whilst a gentle breeze blew through every open door of the van.

At this point I am going to sign off and say adios. I really need to take a break and I am sure you do too.

Tune in next week for final instalment of Lamby’s Aussie adventures!!!

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