Sunday, 13 November 2011

Australia Part VII
- The Other Bits

The Great Ocean Road :: 04-07/07/11

Back on top Travelling-Marshs form, we bid a sad farewell to the Machins and the heavens opened. As we skirted around Melbourne toward Geelong we were down to 10kmh and had strategically placed the washing-up bowl on the back of Clive to catch the major leaks dripping inside. Regrettably, we sloshed past Philip Island; the MotoGP pilgrimage will have to wait.

We spent the first night in a hostel in the coastal town of Torquay. The UK Torquay is in the English Riviera and is - as we all know - eternally sunny; the down-under version was cold, windy and very wet. And the hostel was bizzare; we wandered in to find everything in boxes... the UK part-owner was moving out the following week and we shouldn't really have been staying there. It was a bit disconcerting when she started telling Tim how the fire alarm system worked and that if the alarm did go off, here is the switch to mute the alarm! But just in case, she also gave him the phone number for the fire-brigade. With that, she dissappeared for the night!

Thankfully, the training was surplus to requirments and after Katy returned from a windswept coastal run we continued through the wind and rain, which - if nothing else - made for a more theatrical backdrop to the winding coastal drive following the rising and falling cliffs. By the second night we'd reached Appollo Bay and picked the best of a bad bunch of hostels, which was actually quite homely and had a lovely view of the bay, despite the rain.

Although very quiet, a few people were staying,including - unusually - a family. As we sat in the lounge watching the maelstrom of weather outside, we offered them some of our biscuits (felt a bit guilty eating them in front of them) and we started chatting. An hour later they had offered to take us to dinner! We gratefully refused but they insisted so we then had a game of cat n mouse: at night, in the rain, trying to find somewhere to eat. They were Israeli (and Israelis sure love to travel!); we've met a few who are really quite... demanding? But this was a lovely, funny and interesting family.

The following morning, after saying brief goodbyes, we were back on the road. This time with slight deviations along quiet country tracks, often blocked by free roaming cows. But we were there to see KOALAS! In all this time, we'd never seen them in their natural habitat, but here they were. Clinging on in the rain and virtually impossible to see. But when you did, they were very sweet. Katy happy.

On to Portland. After much hunting for cheap accommodation, we eventually found the Bell View 'guest house' which transpired to be a couple of static caravans in a field. It was one of those times where we nearly turned back but glad we didn't... we knocked on the house next door and met met Olive and Harold, a really sweet old couple. They showed us around (didn't take long) and we just had a really relaxed stay.

The following morning, we walked deserted pathways surrounded by fields of sheep and lambs until reaching the deserted Yellowstone Beach where we recorded a happy birthday message for Krazy Kylie Baty.

Back in the car and onward to Adelaide. Atypically bathed in glorious sunshine, we drove through forests, villages and many famous vineyeards, hardly seeing another living soul. The journey was uneventful but thoroughly enjoyable. We reached the outskirts of Adelaide and re-entered civilisation (though people from other parts of Australia might disagree).

Adelaide :: 07-21/07/11

We stopped in the relatively expensive YHA hostel (made a bit cheaper by using our YHA membership which had expired the year previously). A characterless building full of backpackers with bigger budgets than ours, plus we needed car parking space so we moved on to another - rather less salubrious - hostel. On the edge of town, with free carpark and - bizzarely - a sauna in the car park, it became our new home.

Adelaide gets a bad press from most Australians (even those living in Adelaide). So we were not looking forward to spending much time there. Unfortunately we had to as this was where we had to sell the car (train tickets already booked).

To that end, we printed sale-posters for car, posted them in hostels across the city. Then quickly went back to each poster to reduce the price having seen the others already out there that were failing to sell.

While we waited for the offers to come flooding in, we took a look around. Adelaide's critics might have a point (too small, nothing happening etc), but its not as bad as all that. When its sunny, the area by the river is beautiful; it has some nice streets with cool cafes and some grand old buildings; the foodmarket was great (on the few times wecould afford anything from there) and there was a very cool arts centre... yes, I think thats everything.

Hostel life was generally good. Most of the people were great; some passed through regularly but there were also some long termers (mostly irish) with jobs like fruit picking. Unfortunately, it was during our stay here that Tim had his hoodie stolen but this was the only bad thing to happen (in fact the only bad thing to happen to us on the whole trip... so far). With regular income, the Irish contingent could afford to drink... they didn't need much more encouragement than that!

Still with no takers for Clive, we dropped the price again and put ads online. And we settled in to a bit of a routine. The hostel owner, Andrea was really nice and whilst our room was only $20/night, we halved that by Katy taking on the cleaning of the hostel. Not a big job - taking just a couple of hours after she came back from her run - and she quite enjoyed having a purpose and some fixed activity in the day. Tim found the library's free wifi and started learning to program .asp web-pages... so everyone was happy.

Some days later: Its SOLD! Not the car, but the surfboard. We were getting worried by this stage, so just wanted to sell what we could. Amended posters, reduced the car price again. And waited. The Irish had partied one too many times and were asked to leave. We watched '127 Hours' and realised that we'd been to the part of Utah featured in the movie. This has been one hell of a trip.

This time the price was right... too right. We had loads of calls, but ended up selling to a family recently emigrated from Leeds: Rob & Abby. We'd only taken it to them at their home in Glenelg to show them but they bought it there and then... it meant making our own way back home but that was fine with us. Clive is now a family car! We celebrated with expensive fish n chips and a tour of Glenelg before returning on the tram and preparing for the off. ITS SOLD!

Over the next few days we packed up and wound down, fitting in 'The Hangover II' and 'Bridesmaids' at the very lovely Nova cinema before finally saying our goodbyes to our new friends and heading for the train station.

Across the Nullabor Desert :: 21-23/07/11

We were dropped off on a bluebird day at the well maintained Interstate Train Station ready for our journey from South Australia to the coast of Western Australia; a distance of 2712km which would see us leave on Thursday evening and arrive on Saturday morning.

As we'd already talked to a few people about the trip, we were well prepared. We were - as always - doing things on a budget, so were relegated to the Red carriages (the others being Gold). Instead of sumptuous sleeper cabins we had chairs which reclined... a bit. They were actually more comfortable than you might think (but this really depends upon your levels of imagination) and anyway it brought back fond memories of our many bus rides through South America in our 'semi-cama' seats.

By the time we got going it was nearly 7:00pm and night-time so the views were going to have wait until tomorrow.

Dining was another area where the Red service differred ever so slightly from the Gold. Like orphans on Christmas eve we peered through the windows of the Gold dining carriages (they weren't really gold) and could see the crisp white table cloths below the crisp white napkins, beside silver cutlery and voluminous wine glasses. The Red dining carriage looked like a truckers cafe by comparison. And an expensive truckers cafe at that. Good job then that we stocked up with supplies... our trip was snack fuelled by chocolate and biscuits and crisps and dips. It was like a three-day childrens party (where one of the children likes hummous & carrots).

We were also naughty by bringing on our own wine, strictly against train rules. Whilst Australia is generally expensive, wine is the exception; our ever so classy two litre box of merlot costing just $14. You can get cheaper than this of course but this one also tasted really good. Indeed it seemed to taste even nicer as we discreetly filled our paper coffee cups and sipped whilst watching the world drift past and nonchalantly avoiding the gaze of the train personnel as they walked past us along the aisle... we looked busy, reading books and nibbling biscuits.

Sleep was not great, but not as bad as might be expected. We had plenty of floor space but once everyone has reclined, its like one big game of 3D Tetris... very difficult to extract yourself from, even harder to get back in. The chairs were actually pretty comfortable but all i could think of were the sumptuous sleeper carriages.

On the plus side, we were awake at the break of dawn and after a surprisingly good shower it was time for breakfast. Our economy breakfast saw us eating cereal from more paper coffee cups (we'd bought twenty) though we did splurge and pay for cups of tea from the dining carriage (it being just too early for wine).

With breakfast out of the way (paper cups and plastic spoons made washing up very easy) we could concentrate on the days activities of doing not very much. It was great.

After dawn we had our first sight of the Nullabor. Wow. So much sky. The surrounding countryside was very flat with only tussocks of grass and low shrubs ('Null Arbor') and appeared very similar to our time spent in the 'Back o Bourke' with the Crazy-Batys. The contrasts of colour between deep blue sky, sandy red earth and suprisingly vibrant green plant life was beautiful. Katy saw a dingo walking off with something in its mouth and we saw a few wedgetail eagles but what we were really looking our for were the camels. Yes, camels! I think they were originally bought over from Afghanistan to help carry loads in the outback and they have thrived ever since, apparently over a quarter of a million roam these parts... but nowhere near our train unfortunately.

When not camel hunting we were book reading. I'd been looking forward to this for quite a while. I've read a few books since we've been gone but nowhere as many as I thought i would... unbelievably there never seems to be time. Anyway, trapped in our metal capsule, I now had time and managed nearly two books between Thursday and Friday evenings. It would've been more but I had to make time for some critical daytime snoozing, which felt so decadent. after every sleep you were greeted with a new vista; open plains turned to woodland turned to scrubland and occasioanlly a tiny town.

The train only makes three stops between Adelaide and Perth. These stops are out of necessity rather than pleasure. Our first stop was in the very small town of Cook. Twenty-five minutes to stretch our legs and have a nose around, at what is barely a village. what it lacked in houses it made up for in jails (two, but they were only small and a dedicated larrikin could easily cut through the bars with some goanna teeth). It also gave us our first real look at the whole train. It was quite a sight; i belive there were over forty carriages (including the car transporters at the back). The beautifully emblazened blue Indian Pacific engine looked magnificent in the morning as it was being topped up with fluids. We liked our trusty steed.

And the day progressed. A snifter of wine in the afternoon and we were set up for a great sleep, only awaking in time to watch a beautiful sunset. later that night we stopped at Kalgoolie, a large mining town and hence surprisngly well developed. But also surprisingly cold, so with only thongs on (don't be so childish) we didn't venture far.

Clearly some people had a good time that night as i overheard someone the following morning apologising for stepping on someone elses head, when drunk and desperate for the bathroom. As the other person (who i think was his newly acquired girlfriend) was equally drunk at the time there were no hard feelings, or indeed memory of the event. just bruises.

Perth :: 23-31/07/11

We arrived in Perth bang-on schedule at 9:00am. And with us had bought the Travelling Marshs curse... apparently Perth is always gloriously sunny but on our arrival we were greeted by fog and even a little rain... hrrmphhh.

We were also greeted by a tout trying to get people to stay in his hostel and with nothing else arranged, we agreed to take a look. I should point out here that we'd stayed in some pretty ropey places whilst in south america but this place in vibrant, prosperous Perth made even the worst of Bolivia's offerings look good. Damp, dirty and smelly are three of the most pleasant words i can find to describe the place;add these to 'damp' 'infested', and 'fetid' and you'll start to get the picture. When we told the person showing us around 'thanks, but no thanks' she apologised and admitted the place was terrible; she'd only been working there one day and hated it. Lets hope our new - if much more expensive - home, The Billabong Backpackers is as good to us as our Adelaide home...

We wandered down to waterfront at night where we saw a large white marquee, but with no big crowds we figured we'd missed whatever had been happening. We were just about to walk away when music started playing. We stayed a while longer and realised that the marquee was actually full and as we walked closer, Pulp started playing. We found a gap in the side of the tent which gave a perfect view of the stage so we had a free concert. Wierd, but sounded great and reminded Katy of her William street days.

The following day, we managed to meet-up (all too briefly) with Sarah Ryan. We'd first met Sarah on Vancouver Island so it was amazing after all that time to meet again in her home town. She took us for dim sum at a great place we would never have found on our own. But she was just about to leave for Europe, so the meet was short but sweet.

A couple of days later, we also met with Tryn and her family. She used to live in Brecon, Wales but had moved to Aus several years ago. We'd been looking forward to this reunion for ages.

We met outside the Hospital, where she works and she took us home to her place. She lives in a lovely suburb of Perth with her husband Terry and sons Fraser & Josh who had both grown significantly since we last saw them (and become a little bit aussie too). At the time, Terry's son - Sean - from the UK was also visiting so it was a full place! It was so great to meet with Tryn again and she had not changed one bit (this is a good thing!). The family was so nice... and the BBQ!

We took a brief trip to Fremantle which everyone raves about. It was 'Ok' but with the dreary weather continuing, I think we didn't see it at its best. Much more fun was the AC-DC exhibition, next to the University. Loads of 'DC realted nostalgia in their homeland.

We met Tryn on another couple of occasions. The first: a lunch date at the Lucky Shag, down by the harbour (you can tell its a classy place as it has two way glass in the mens toilets looking out into the bar). And the second was when she offered to take us to the airport to continue our journey and on to our next big step... South East Asia. But first she treated us to another great meal... we have some lovely friends!

But eventually the time came and - six months after arriving - we hugged and said our goodbyes and were back in an airport full of excitement and expectation and roast dinner...

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