“It strikes awe in your soul when you see it.” – Oprah
“It strikes awe in your soul when you see it.” – Oprah
I would like to go ahead and openly admit that I am not a good backpacker. I am really not even a backpacker in the traditional or stereotypical manner. At all. Literally, fine, sure, I do have a large bag that I pack my belongings into and I do wear it on my back when I occasionally move. However, that is the extent of the title’s relevance to me. What really solidified my non-backpacker status was my accommodation in Glendalough, a short term three month lease that even required a bond. I am naturally, casually working my way into the culture and society. I am fitting in with my surroundings and the general populous. I am one of them. “Do Australians hold a pen like this,” I thought as I signed my housing contract. My mindset and actions are really of a resident with an over aware, mindfulness of their temporary status…’Backpacker’ just ain’t the right description for myself. It doesn’t accurately label or capture my essence nor my growing collection of currently eight pairs of shoes. Someone titled me a ‘flashpacker,’ which isn’t too far from the truth since I am traveling with an excessive amount of costume jewelry and duplicates of apparel items (I have two identical denim pearl snap long sleeve shirts).
My living situation in Glendalough made me nervous at first because it combined aspects from two of my past housing experiences. Firstly it reminded me of my freshman year of Uni where I got assigned to live with three strangers that only common denominator was our new address. One day after coming back from a sleeping over at my boyfriend’s place I found my bed littered with orange Cheeto powder and physically occupied by a alcohol-based sweaty stranger. Also not getting to comb Perth by foot to make a calculated selection on the neighbourhood was a reminder to my initial quick pick home in Houston. A friend and I had no knowledge of Houston and its boroughs and ended settling on a complex that simply had a space available for immediate move-in; plus it was far away from the traffic intersection where we had just witnessed a man being hit and thrown into the air by a car when crossing the walkway (horrible, scarring first impression of the city). We had a crazy cat neighbour that left gifts of wine and nuts on our doorstep, my car got broken into, and we couldn’t be outside at night. The expiration on that original Houston six month lease didn’t come soon enough. Well and now six years later I had found myself in a neighbourhood I had not vetted and a shared living situation with three new strangers. I hoped it would be better than my previous experiences or at least no revolting bed pirating this time around (minimal expectations).
The premature deja vu and house worrying disappeared upon entering the apartment – I was greeted with Irish hospitality, laughs and cuppas. Orla and Andre, an Irish couple, made up half of my flatmates and we hit it off pretty instantly by drinking and chatting. A majority of the time what we drank was alcoholic making our chats mostly drunk banter. Andre is a history enthusiast and usually our discussions of the topic occurred when we both had passed the tipsy mark. Surely he was as drunk as me…or if I can’t actually keep pace with an adult Irish man I hope he at least can’t directly quote me from those conversations. Politics and history I can lightly cover sober, but while drunk, well I am sure facts were skewed and jumbled on my drunken end. I would have rather talked about bluegrass, country landscapes, beer, BBQ, folk music, and literature; that is my America that I feel comfortable, soberly, openly discussing. On the flip side I was happy to learn directly about Ireland and enjoyed the full blown course in UK conflicts on Easter Monday. Then the last offical member of the apartment was Eloise, whose school and work schedule kept her occupied and focused on gaining PR status (permanent residency). Eloise’s fellow English mate/unofficial boyfriend ended up moving in a few weeks after I did. We all had a decent time together – freaking out over the spotting of the unwanted addition to the household (the backyard rat), my forced My Kitchen Rules viewing parties (an Australian reality series I obsessed over and to my amazement previewed four new episodes a week), and the many moments we spent pretending Eloise and Lawrence weren’t in a fight. I missed the two flatmate outings because DJ and UFC focused events didn’t interest me enough to reserve space in my schedule or budget. Yet from what they could remember to tell me I don’t think I missed any real bonding moments because they couldn’t recall the memories they made…So we went on as five emigrants, all with different habits, interests, and life experiences to make a home in the muddled suburb of Glendalough.
The neighbourhood of Glendalough turned out to be a pretty subdued suburb. I was happy to be two train stops northwest of Perth’s CBD and only one from Leederville. Leedy is a small borough with a busy main strip filled with restaurants, bars, pubs, and late night trading hour merchant shops all accented in street art. On my days off from work I was at Greens & Co[ck] multitasking a pot of tea and one of the following: a book, emails/letters to and from the States, editing photos, blog post, or more likely falling down youtube rabbit holes. I got into a routine and even back into running. Lake Monger was a block away and provided a great 2.5km track with views of strangely native birds. Cockatoos, parrots, and black swans flew around commonly like pigeons. I even got comfortable enough in my new home to start dating. I was surrounded by two traveling couples at home and being a single, solo, and alone traveller lost its appeal temporarily. At the time I started to feel the need to share moments with a someone. Now big surprise, dating with an expiration date didn’t work out. I attracted what I was, interim arrangements. Dating did help me explore Perth (I columbused and became a regular at a few locations I was taken) and in one case I experienced a real Australian tradition. A date took me out on ANZAC Day for the sunset ceremony in Kings Park. ANZAC ceremonies are two long audience and occasionally host silent hours of respecting the fallen and fighting soldiers. It was a challenge in itself to be date ready when he picked me up, but then it proved far more difficult to be delightful and connect (when prohibited by the ceremony) at 5:00am. My brain doesn’t even want to talk to itself that early in the morning. Probably one of the least provocative dates I have ever been on.
My time in Perth continued on and I remained single and enjoyed my solo memories. One random day off from work I took the ferry over to Rottnest Island. On Rotto the real means of transportation is bicycles. As most of my friends know, I do not have the best background or experience with this apparatus. I would have impressed so many friends back in the States! I cycled all over that island with no tumbles and had the thigh rub and have the lack of road rash to prove it. Although I wouldn’t claim it as a personal skill yet, there is still room for improvement. Back on the mainland, I also made trips down the rail line to Freo and took the Prison tour a few times. Then Esperance was a tentative adventure with Eloise and Lawerence. They canceled due to limited funds and that is how my trip to Exmouth was birthed. I came home and shared my experiences and photos with my Glendalough household, which thus inspired the newly financially stable Eloise and Lawerance’s couple retreat up the west coast to Monkey Mia. Laslty State side I have attended concerts alone and I was about to do the same for the Passenger’s Freo concert until I found out an acquaintance and her friend would be there. They chose to skip the opening acts of Luke Thompson and All Our Exes Live in Texas, which I did not miss and not without a drink or three. They arrived at the height of my intoxication for the night yet I was the acceptable presence at the concert. I was talking the lyrics while the two girls I was with chatted like they were at brunch. I was drunk and fully aware of the surrounding audience members death glares. When Passenger belted out his infamous line “I hate ignorant folks, who pay money to see gigs and talk through every fucking song,” everyone around us directly yelled it at them. Post show we wandered into a bar where the Irish girl found fellow countrymen for us to drink with. A guy grabbed me to dance and my pint glass slipped out of my hand shattering across the dance floor. I awkward moon walked out of the situation and left him with the clean up and explaining.
So really my job at Quiksilver turned to be such a bigger blessing than expected. It was essential to have a reliable work schedule.
Everyone needs a pay check to cover the basics (food, rent, and transportation costs). But Quiksilver was also great for me by way of friendships, time spent, and overall mental state. The Claremont store was my home base and where I intertwined my life with Perth. The store manger, Katie (herself an expat hailing from Oregon) welcomed me and included me in the store’s and her social agenda instantly thankfully. While we were finishing up my orientation she invited me to join the staff for drinks in honour of a coworker leaving (I was essentially filling his position while he studied abroad in Denmark for six months). Initially I was confused about this “happy hour”s location, Hotel Claremont. The building on the inside did not appear like a hotel at all. The bottom floor has two full bars and full of tables and upstairs looking similar with the addition of a dance floor. So hotels are bars in Australia. I found Katie’s familiar face, grabbed a stool next to her, and then was introduced to the assorted characters of Western Australia’s Quiksilver crew. I met the manager of the CBD store, Mike (the regional manager of WA), Scott (Katie’s partner), Craig (second in charge at the Claremont store), and the guy wearing the shoes I was going to have to fill. Hotel Claremont’s deal for Claremont Quarter Shopping Centre workers is two pints and an appetizer for fifteen dollars out weighed the required decorum for the evening with upper management. Inhabitants of Perth claim that its high cost of living is due to it being the most isolated city in the world…alcohol costs compare to the cocktails I was buying at rooftop bars in Los Angeles (yet minimum wage is triple down under). Conclusion is that I would be found at the Hotel Claremont pretty much every Friday forward to take advantage of this deal. I don’t remember much of the night, but I tagged along til the very end because this deal was a gift from the gods. I took the rail train with Mike, a total of ninety minutes of drunk conversation covering Quiksilver America. He claimed to have maybe knowledge of hearing about my old divisional manager in Texas while I just tried not to make a fool of myself. And that was my first outing with the crew. I had my shift in a few days and Katie then invited me to her birthday celebration that week at a Fringe World show called ‘Briefs,’ an all male burlesque troupe presentation.
At Katie’s birthday celebration I was introduced to a table that was half named Emily or had a combination with the name. Craig had told me his girlfriend, Emily, would be there and I would easily get along with her. I was thinking I should have gotten a description from Craig when luckily I crossed paths with Mark, the brother of Craig’s Emily. The group moved from dinner to the Pleasure Garden fair grounds. Fringe World is a month long festival stretching all over Perth and it’s surrounding suburbs. The program was the size of a Vogue September edition. I was grateful to be invited and also experiencing an actual Fringe event because the festival was too daunting to take on with my indecisive mind. We all crammed into a booth left of the main stage within the De Parel Spiegeltent or De Parel Van Vuren or Pearl of Fire or fucking fantastic tent that I imagine my childhood blanket forts to look like. I ended the night post show at the private staff and act bar. I made good conversation and snagged a phone number – it was Em’s and we were going to coordinate a surf dates.
I remember the first time I trekked to Em and Mark’s place on Margaret Street. As I reached the top of the second hill on Grant Street, I was staring straight across the Indian Ocean. I was stupefied. If I wasn’t so dehydrated from Perth’s summer heat I could have teared up at the view. I would repeat the journey from Glendalough to Cottesloe a few more times and my reaction only heightened especially when Em and Mark later offered me the room of their unwanted Brazilian flatmates. Margaret Street was such a little piece of paradise. This wood floored home (Not Really a Fun Fact: I hate carpet) was a block away from the beach and inhabited by the friendly siblings of Mark and Em. And Em won me over easily via my stomach. She spoiled me rotten with her cooking, as any chef can do to their friends. I would come over every other week and a group of us would feast and surf the next morning. That was the time of Em and I’s summer surf ritual: binge dinner, surf movie, 6:00am wake up call, free surf, eat brekkie, surf lesson, second brekkie, and nap time. The first round of surfing took place usually at South Trigg with Craig and Mike and sometimes other guests, like Rob (another Quiksilver employee), would make appearances. My store had a community board that was damaged in transit and was fixed up for play not show. I ended up getting my hands on it to participate in the free surfs (meaning I practiced paddling and drinking up the entire ocean when I attempted to stand up on white washed waves). This 6’8” Roxy board was already capsized when it hit the water with my un-even, -skilled, -balanced self on top of it. During the lessons I was on a 8’ foamie and that’s when I eventually and victoriously stood up. I rode that little white wash wave all the way to the beach and walked off the board onto the sand in a valiant manner. Also now being a “surfer” I needed gear; in my nonbackpacker fashion I bought a spring and steamer wetsuits. It turned out to be a decent investment after the first morning out. At breakfast (round one) Em’s arms were covered in red thin lines. My spring suit was long sleeved so luckily my arms were spared from the jellies.
I was well acquainted with my Australia Quikie core and extended family (I picked up shifts at any of the three other Quiksilver stores in the Perth area) by the time two corporate visual merchandiser visited. Quiksilver corporate visits in Texas were not always the most professional. It was always a way for everyone to blow off steam and more importantly for the “white collar” to bond with the “working class.” The outings in Texas always revolved around a large consumption of alcohol (limiting my participation since I was under age of the legal drinking age in the States). Usually the nights ended somehow in nudity (making me glad to have not to have fully participated). Now one of the corporate outings I got to log was down under, and we all gathered at the Aviary and drank until the numbers dwindled. The smaller group made its way to Ezra Pound, an alley way bar. There we drank tall boys of Pabst in brown bags outside. Perth’s current bar scene is going through a real fascination with 1920’s America and fashioning bars after speakeasies, which makes it really difficult to bar hop when you can’t find the bar or the password to be granted entrance. In an attempt to find another bar I was left with two others. Paul, a English traveler (who described my sense of humour and self to be aggressive) and Jake. Sarah, had separated from the group to continue the night, but after not finding a bar quickly enough she disappeared from the three of us. Paul drunkenly concerned continued to scream her name. Th next morning my suspicions were confirmed that Sarah had ran off and grabbed a taxi. Eventually Paul decided to head back home to his shared hostel room after I calmed him down about Sarah’s disappearing act. Jake knew of a place still open and serving, the Penthouse Club. There was a $50 minimum for credit, which meant four margaritas on the rocks and the remaining balance in Penthouse dollars. I guess since Australia doesn’t have bills smaller than five, and stripping for coins doesn’t seem justified or practical they print off clubhouse, monopoly money. I sipped margaritas until closing. I still have those Penthouse bucks, what a unique souvenir.
These first three months passed by quickly. Every experience in life is technically novel, but being in another country and submersed in a different culture (even one comparative to the States) called for and kept my full attention. Now with the last three months of my time in Perth having Cottesloe as my stomping ground and being a flatmate to two of my very own handmade friends well things are looking better than a cold Shiner after a days work outside in Houston heat.
[Spoiler Alert: this the second and last instalment of my road trip to Exmouth; please read ‘Exmouth Awe, Part 1‘ if you haven’t done so and if you have well thank you and don’t mind this formality of a warning and please continue reading.]
I drove in silence from Monkey Mia in an attempt to mentally preserve and savour the dolphins’ dialogue of clicking and whistling. Then after passing sixteen permanently departed kangaroos, I really wanted to get back to the coastline to see mobile/living/active wildlife. But the town of Carnarvon seemed to continue its greater area’s ghostly theme. Multiple Australians had told me to skip the town and I really would have, but Brute did need fuel and the draw of both the Mile Long Jetty and sweeter Lunch Box Banana was just one too strong for me to resist. As I made my way through the notorious gastro-district town I saw only closed fruit stands. The bananas for sale at the petrol station weren’t confirmed as the local icon. Eventually I did identify one – it was six metres, made from fibreglass, and an advertisement for its actual size and edible self. It was quite frustrating to not find a single banana that supposedly is 4/5 better than QSLD bananas! I gave up on that quest and headed to the entrance of the Mile Long Jetty (that turned out not to be a mile anymore; the last stretch is closed due to safety reasons which I found out on site). I couldn’t manage to walk and look up at the same time since there were a lot of missing or clumsily, haphazardly lodged planks. When I made it to the premature end there was an interesting notice tacked next to the closed sign. It was a warning sign for ‘Happy Moments.’ It warned its readers about a fish, which in true blue Australian manner is named sarcastically. And why wasn’t this warning about a stinging fish posted at the start of the jetty where people are in the water or along the walk where people fish?! I will be honest that upon leaving the jetty I did not put money into the honesty box. I honestly didn’t pay five dollars for that risky, dangerous stretch of my legs. The awe from Monkey Mia had now dissipated and was replaced with worry of joining the kangaroos on the side of the road in an endless slumber. I’ll soon be another causality of Australia’s peculiar wild.
Ten rotting kangaroos later I made it to the humble resort town of Coral Bay, where there was no vacant parking for Brute and I. Using the last bit of the day’s sun I back tracked to Warroora, the alternative caravan/camper friendly beach, and found out it was cash only. Being short two dollars I was immediately turned away by the bogan attendant. With my heart pained, brain irritated, and bladder full I pulled over and peed on the other side of the dune, which was also the backyard of the bogan’s residency. Of course I was thankful to have planned ahead and purchased water to avoid a death by dehydration, but I was a bit happier to have had the opportunity to defile this bogan’s work and home. It was a silent and sterile protest. Brute and I got to Warroora’s exit and that’s where we parked it – right in front of the entrance sign for Warroora. In the morning I made sure to pee once more inside the Warroora property before we went back to Coral Bay because I could for free and it satisfied my soul as well as my bladder.
I went on a sunrise stroll up the beach of Bill’s Bay and soon was wadding around Skeleton Bay. I was thrilled watching the ribbon tailed stingrays racing around the sandbar. Every time I got too close they’d create an underwater sandstorm and scoot a meter or so farther away. I shuffled around the bay enjoying myself until I noticed a dark figure swimming in a curious manner. Shark. It’s a shark. I backed away and quickly made my way to the shore. Skeleton Bay was a nursery for reef sharks and it was on my itinerary for the trip, but I hadn’t realised I reached it already and so the shark spotting took me by surprise. A man on the shore who saw my panic efforts to get ashore offered his hand and pulled me the last few steps to the dry sand. Fred explained to me the mostly harmless nature of Ningaloo’s reef sharks as I internally wondered why Australian men always seemed to have better hair than me – natural ombre and always a perfectly set bun. I took his invitation and accompanied him on his walk to Purdy Point. We talked about travel, life, and of course Burning Man. It is a topic that a majority of Australians bring up. They dream about being ‘Burners.’ Australians froth over anything that can be linked back to Mad Max, their country’s greatest labour into worldwide pop culture. So America is currently now known down under for Drumpf, lack of gun control, and Burning Man. I have never gone to Burning Man and it’s not on my life or festival bucket lists. When we came across a jelly on the beach I got a break from Fred’s what-if scenario of a world instilled with Burning Man’s principles. He scooped the jelly up and started passing it back and forth between his hands. Now the only types of jellyfish I have come into contact with hailed from Texas’ Gulf of Mexico coast and they sting, badly. He noted my astonishment and dismay, naturally a lesson commenced. Apparently there are jellyfish that are simply only jelly. A pastime sport for some Australians is Jelly Cricket – washed up jellies (dying/dead jellyfish without stingers) are thrown at a batter to well…bat at. He tossed the jelly and I caught it with no stinging pain. When we reached Purdy Point Fred got ready for his snorkel and I headed back down the coastline with a slightly adjusted sense of self, one that was more invincible to reef sharks and jellyfish. When the awe peaked from wandering around with the reef sharks I walked back to Bill’s Bay to snorkel a bit before I finally headed to my ultimate destination, Exmouth. While I skipped sun screen I thought I was pretty sharp tying my car key to my bikini (note the documentation of the picture I have from a then live tweet). I admired the underwater Ayer’s Rock (the largest brain coral in the southern hemisphere) and stalked a school of parakeet fish as they made their way around the bay on a coral feeding frenzy. I swam and swam; enjoying the feeling of being submerged under the sea like a mermaid.
I came ashore when thermodynamics began to play a negative part in my snorkel (you know when you loose feeling in your phalanges?). I laid down on the beach for what felt to be a few minutes to dry off. As I got dressed in the parking lot a group of old men started staring. I was not being obscene, so what was attracting their focus…I hustled to get Brute road ready and drove away. When I passed the sixth deceased kangaroo I rolled down the windows as I had started to feel a burning sensation. The whole backside of my body felt like it had actually touched the surface of the sun. I checked the time and pieced together that I had spent hours facing the ocean floor and an additional hour with my face in the sand. I had fallen asleep. My nap was sixty minutes long. I need aloe vera and lots of beer to numb myself. The only open bar: Cadillac’s, an American honky tonk style bar. I was a day and half away by airplane (which let me translate to one hundred and forty four passed away kangaroos) from Texas and there I was drinking an Emu Export (an equivalent to Lone Star and Pabst Blue Ribbon) in a bar decorated completely in a ‘South Will Rise Again’ fashion. The bar is operated by American ex-pats, which saddened me even more…the bar even had the offensive American rebel flag. I watched the Australian Country Music Awards (that had flown in Georgia Line and Jason Aldean as special guests) waiting for the beer take effect on the feeling of my radiating skin. Later in the bathroom I hung my shirt and bra on the stall’s door hook and shorts on the ground around my ankles to lather myself in cooling aloe vera. I was wearing a thick cape of aloe vera when I approached the bar to order dinner and another Emu.
As the sun fell past the horizon of the Indian Ocean I witnessed the first breathing kangaroo on my trip. It jumped straight across the road forcing me to pump Brute’s breaks. I left Brute and her headlights on as I got out and took in Cape Range at twilight. Actual jumping, moving kangaroos were everywhere to be seen. I drove slowly to Yardie Creek to camp for the night all a while I watched the mob of kangaroos in the night.
The nesting season for sea turtles had ended and the hatching season was under way when I visited the park. Also I made it in time for the shooting of feral animals (such as dingos). So I was restricted from a few beaches where sea turtle nests were still suspected and the park’s whole inner gorge. I had to retire my trip goals of seeing baby sea turtles hatching and hiking Shothole and Charles Knife Canyons. The Park Rangers suggested that I snorkel, which my body had more than a enough of the day before, yet with no other options I sported a tank top and athletic pants to be sun ready for Exmouth’s snorkeling hot spots. Oyster Stacks was a bit difficult to manoeuvre with a rocky shore line and the tide dictating the underwater landscape. Contrastingly Turquoise Bay was awe inspiring. I put my mask on and in less than a metre out in thigh deep water I was seeing a full ecosystem. I swam as far out as I could and rode the bay’s current back in floating over the Ningaloo reef. I walked back up the shore to do it all over again until I was shaking from the damn laws of thermodynamics.
Brute and I ventured up to Vlamingh Head Lighthouse, the highest accessible spot in the park, for me to warm up in the sun. My phone received cell service and a message from my boss asking me to cover a shift the day after next. This three sixty view of Western Australia was beautiful and inspired wonderment…I had really ended up here due to a last minute change of plans. Two of my Glendalough flatmates had initiated planning a trip to the southern town of Esperance, but a week before the trip they let me know they couldn’t afford to go. Not wanting to waste my time off from work I threw together a last minute, solo expedition and in the opposite direction to Exmouth. Now at the end of the line for this road trip I was called and tempted back to Perth a day sooner than planned. I sat and weighed my options and settled on going back a day early. The gorge was not opening until after my planned trip, my food supply was running low (my diet for the next two days would be carrots and humus), my whole backside was completely sunburnt, and I longed for a hot water shower. I had drove 1,250 kilometres, seen alive and dead kangaroos (more so the latter), and whole heartedly experienced the Coral Coast and Western Australian Outback. I had found awe in the landscape and in my own journey. I was traveling Australia. What a simple and magnificent awe.