A chance to spend time with old friends and to make some new ones.
21.02.2015 - 08.03.2015 32 °C
As I am writing this post it is around 6:00 am in Dublin, Ireland. No I am not still up from partying the night before, rather I am up early after sleeping off the jet leg which was induced by 20 hours of flying from Perth, Australia! As they say,' I may not know whether I am coming or going' just yet, but what I do know for sure is that our time spent over the last month in Australia and New Zealand was well worth it! There is a lot to cover off, so sit back, relax, maybe grab a beer or a glass of wine and here we go....
We arrived in Perth in the wee hours of the morning on February 21st after connecting flights from Bangkok to Phuket and then onto Perth. As usual, travel itself sometimes creates some interesting times and our connecting flight in Phuket was one of those times. We were almost 40 minutes delayed getting out of Bangkok and with only a short layover in Phuket, where we would join the sun and booze soaked Aussies headed back home, we would be under the gun to make our connecting flight. We had a game plan when we got off the plane which involved running as fast as we could to our next flight, I would get our bags and Sherry would go to the check-in counter...pretty rough plan I will admit that, but it was a plan nonetheless. This all got tossed out the window when instead of being dropped directly at our terminal, we jumped off the plane to see a series of buses waiting for us which would transport us to our gate. More time was spent waiting on the bus and the quick math I was doing in my head told me it was going to be near impossible to make it to our flight. Luckily when we excited the bus and entered the airport we noticed a man holding an 8.5" x 11" piece of paper with the word "Perth" sloppily written in light blue highlighter on it, so we stopped to see if this was for us. As luck would have it this guy was waiting for us and after making sure we were the people he had spent so much time making the sign for, he asked if we could run. It was game on and as we passed through the airport (seemingly breaking rules all over the place) he let us know the check in counter closed in 5 minutes and did his best to get a description of our luggage so they could deliver it for check in. Now, thankfully we had fairly distinct luggage, with red straps circling our bags and "Canada" written on them, as I have no idea how else they would have been able to distinguish our bags from what I am sure are hundreds of similar looking peices of luggage. We were wisked into the check in line, where our luggage followed shortly after and the crisis was averted. As it turned out we ended up with time to spare, which allowed us to spend some quality time with the depressed Aussie vacationers who were heading back home from their vacations in the islands of Thailand. The Thai islands are the equivalent of a Cuba, Mexico or Dominican Republic vacation for most North Americans. Sandy beaches, plus cheap booze and accomodation's - returning to work was the last thing these people wanted to do and the looks on their faces said it all. Sherry and I couldn't help but laugh to ourselves a bit as we enjoyed our fortune of not being in the same boat as these folks. Sherry would later bring up an interesting personal observation she had while we sat in the airport in Phuket and I will share it with you now as I think it is quite interesting and relevant. For Sherry and I, we had spent the last month walking through South East Asia in anonymity it would seem. We did not really care what we looked like, the cloths we wore could be repetitive from day to day and we felt comfortable with who we were amongst the people, not being challenged to meet some uncomfortable standard of the society around us. As Sherry put it, once she became surrounded by people who were more culturally similar to us, she felt the "care-freeness" about her image being challenged. I have to admit at first when she was explaining this I struggled to understand where she was going with it but it came up in a few conversations over the coming weeks, and each time my appreciation for her feelings grew. It really reinforced for me how we assess or compare ourselves locally, rather then globally and just how quickly our self image can be challenged. Now, Sherry was not saying that all of a sudden she felt poorly about herself or who she was, but rather she was making an observation of how quickly that feeling can creep up on you. I think we are all subject to these feelings throughout our lives, with many of us falling victim to them by uncomfortably changing who we are in order to fit in with our surroundings which is based on what we think others think of us. Whether it be at work, out in a social context such as a bar or restaurant, or just visiting with friends, we all face these personal challenges and to me, that is life, and I don't think that will ever change. The part that we control though is our response to these feelings and simply recognizing them when they arise is a huge start to it. Don't worry, I am not going to go on and wax philosophically about the human ego and all the intimitley detailed stuff that has been studied and published over the years, but I do feel that it is important to raise the observation for people's consideration and as a reminder that even though we may be seen to be living this incredible dream journey (which we are), that we are still human and as such we will continue to face the same personal challenges that everyone else does regardless of status in life. Okay, wow, I did not see that coming when I started wrttting this post, let's get back to trip!
As we exited the Perth airport around 7:00 am we were greeted by the familliar faces of our friends Joe and Angel Italiano who where there to pick us up and take us back to their home in Geraldton (4 hours North of Perth) where we would be setting up camp for the next couple weeks. Joe grew up in Australia, while Angela was born and raised in Paisley, Ontario before meeting up with her husband to be and moving to Australia 5 years ago. Unfortunately we were not able to make their 2013 wedding in Italy, so we were long over due in getting to spend some time with them. Even though we were crazy tired from the over night flight, we both got our second winds as we hung in there for some breakfast before making our way out of the city. When Joe pulled into a cemetery as we left the city I questioned just what he had planned for us, but he just grinned and laughed when he realized I recognized that we where making this questionable detour. It all made sense when Joe pointed out to the right side of the vehicle and we saw mobs of Kangaroos hanging out all over the place. With a loaf a bread in hand we jumped out and before long we had wild kangaroos eating right from our hands! Not a bad little start to the Australian leg of our travels. Joe took us down the coastal route to Geraldton which provided some great views on the ocean and the beautiful coastal landscape. By all rights we both should have been out cold sleeping, but there was no way that was going to happen. Between soaking up the scenery and catching up with our friends, there wasn't much room for sleep to happen. I kid you not when I tell you that Sherry and Angel where talking for the entire 4 hours of the drive!
We arrived in the west coast town of Geraldton, which has a population approximately 36,000, around mid afternoon. The town itself is supported largely by the shipping industry as it contains a major seaport. There are also several schools throughout the town which offer employment for many folks just like our friends Joe and Angel who both work at Nagle Catholic College. Angel also works in Joe's sisters shop called "You Little Beauty" where she has massage clients on Thursdays. Nagle is a large catholic school which takes in many students from outside of Geraldton and as such they have a boarding house to accommodate them. The boarding house would be where Sherry and I set up shop for the next few weeks as that is where Joe and Angel have their apartment. After getting settled into our new residence it was time for the couch! Joe tossed on some cricket, which was pretty bizarre for me as I didn't know any of the rules, but it wasn't long before I had the basic premise figured out and was able to follow along. Soccer, cricket, rugby, and Footie would become my new sports diet! As I sit here today and am writing this, Austrlaia is playing New Zealand in the World Cup final and I am cheering for the Aussies to bring home a 5th championship. I was quite surprised how into the sport I got during our short time in Australia but like in many other countries, sport is a bonding agent that can bring common ground to just about any relationship regardless of nationality. I would find myself popping my head into bars as we walked around Perth in the later weeks to check the scores of the Aussie games and make sure the boys were doing well hahaha. So, what was our plan for the next month or so? Of course I wasn't just going to sit around and watch cricket for a month straight - here is a little run down of the fun we got up to in our first couple weeks.
Joe and Angel were both working during the days, so Sherry and I had time to ourselves to go out and explore the town on our own and to catch up on some R &R. As with every other new place, we spent time just touring around the town on foot and seeing what new experiences were at our finger tips. The first week was really laid back and lazy for both of us during the days but we did get the chance to get out and meet some of Joe and Angel's friends and family. First on the docket were Jess and Nigel, who's home we visited for some pizza and drinks on Jess's birthday. Jess and Nigel are both teachers as well, with Jess teaching at Nagle alongside Joe and Angel, and Nigel teaching physics at a different high school. Sherry and I both felt extremely comfortable and welcomed by Jess and Nigel and over the coming weeks we would spend more time with them and I think it is safe to say that a friendship developed with them - I say that with confidence as when we were leaving Geraldton the last we saw of them was Jess running down the road, pulling out a wedding invite from her purse and giving it to Sherry hahaha. It was amazingly hilarious and as if Sherry didn't have enough tears in her eyes at the time, this act of kindness sent her over the top! As mentioned, we also had the chance to meet some family as both Joes sister and his parents live in Geraldton. It was Joe's nieces birthday and we were invited to tag along for a birthday BBQ. It was a beautiful evening as we enjoyed the company of Joe's parents and his sister in-laws parents while chowing down on some good old steaks, salads and hot dogs. As Joe's last name suggests (Italiano) he comes from an Italian family. I know, I know, an Italian, with the last name Italiano! It seems like it is likely to be a fake name hahaha. Joe's parents have been in Australia for 40 years now but they all still hold true to their Itlaian heritage as family is absolutely everything to them. They have a lovely family and it was a pleasure to get to meet them.
When Friday rolled around it was time to do what I had been looking forward to for some time now and that was to get my skinny, pale-ass frame up on a surf board and ride the waves of the ocean. Friday was the beginning of a long weekend for Joe and Angel so we had a beach day planned out. We loaded up the surf boards and it was off to the beach to catch some waves. Like a kid in a candy store I ran to the ocean, doing my best David Hasselhoff impression for his baywatch days and then smashed into the ocean with the grace of a dog learning how to swim for the first time - thankfully there were no on lookers as the beach was deserted and we had it all to ourselves. A few waves in I somehow managed to stand up and get a short ride in and with that, my confidence was through the roof. I figured I had this sport mastered and that maybe it was just as easy as it looked on T.V. . It would be hours before I stood up again, as my body got rag dolled around in the ocean. Reality paid me a visit and made sure I knew just how out of shape I was as the waves pushed me around and held me back from getting back out to where I needed to be to if I was going to catch another one. After a couple of hours of sun, sand and yes, even some surf, we pulled up stakes and headed back into town. I was content with my effort and happy that I got to give surfing a go. On the plus side of it all, I didn't get eaten by a shark and no jellyfish stings either. Funny enough these were things that I didn't consider much before entering the water hahaha. We finished our Friday evening off by having dinner out with Joe, Nigel, Angel and Jess at a place called the provincial which was full of great food and drink, but it was also the place where the somewhat harsh reality of my sunburn started to check in! Caught up in my desire to surf, I failed to slap on the SPF early enough to prevent a wee bit of a burn. The next day it was off to Perth with Joe and Angel to take part in a celebration that is quite famialiar to both Sherry and I - it was time for a "Stag" and "Staggette" weekend or as they call it in Australia "Bucks and Hens" night/weekend. Both party organizers were gracious enough to let us tag along, which gave Sherry and I both some time to meet new people and to have some time apart after almost one and half months spending every day together. Some girl time and some guy time was just what the doctor ordered. The highlight of the weekend for me was getting to attend a professional soccer match between the Perth Glory and the Brisbane Roar. The match ended in a tie...no surprise there, but the experience as a whole was pretty cool. I always knew that soccer fans were wild, but the seats we had which where located in the area known as "The Shed" gave me an up close and personal view of all the craziness. Beer would fly through the air when goals were scored or if an opposition fan was spotted in the mix. Cheers and chants were a constant, with referees being jeered for making a bad call against the home team or the opposition goalie being psyched out as he attempted to move the ball up the field. It was all good fun, especially being there with all the fellas in the stag trip, and I will no doubt always remember my first taste of live professional soccer. Something else I was introduced to while in Perth was the "Sunday Session". On the surface this just seemed like going out and drinking on a Sunday at a nice hotel bar, which fundamentally is what takes place, but the roots of this activity come from further back in time. There was a time when the hours in which bars could sell alcohol were very restrictive and many hotels started setting up illegal drinking sessions on Sunday afternoons. This sounds somewhat similar to the adaption of "speakeasy" bars during prohibition. Eventually the laws loosened up and now many hotels and bars open their doors early in the day to serve up great food, booze and entertainment. The places where these "Sunday Sessions" are being held are fairly classy joints so don't roll out of bed in your joggers and a t-shirt thinking you are grabbing a greasy spoon breakfast like you would be back in Canada. In fact, depending on the place there are some well enforced dress codes. Sherry's highlight would be enjoying proper high tea with the girls and of course lots of dancing with the girls as the toured from bar to bar.
The Monday that we rolled back into Geraldton was again a holiday and we took full advantage of it by vegging out on the couch, periodically falling asleep and waking up to wonder if anyone else had noticed. The rest of the week was filled with touring around the town and enjoying the beach. We also made a stop at the HMAS Sydney Memorial which is a focal point for Geraldton sitting at the peak of the town looking out over the ocean. Here is a link if you would like to read more about this beautiful memorial http://hmassydneymemorial.com.au/. We were lucky enough to have a vehicle to use while staying with Joe and Angel, so we would load up the standup paddleboard (SUP) and head down to the beach for most of the days. Sherry caught on to the paddleboard pretty quickly and was cruising around the harbour area like she owned it. On a few occasions while paddling around I noticed some small stingrays swimming underneath me and I would have some fun chasing them around, until I lost my balance and fell in right on top of them. Thankfully they were more scared of me! The beach we went to got some pretty good waves and we would bust out the boogy boards to mess around in them which was a lot of fun (I left my surfboard at home or else I would have definitely been up shredding those waves......). When the weekend rolled around we made plans to go out for dinner with Jess, Nigel and Angel at an Indian restaurant. Joe was away on a camp trip with the school so Angel had us all to herself....well most importantly she had Sherry, I am pretty sure I was just background noise hahaha. Dinner was great and this was the first BYOB restaurant I had ever been in so I can check that experience off my list. Angel and I took full advantage of the BYOB, not as much as the guys who had a 40 of rye and 2 bottles of coke beside us, but we did good enough that driving was out of the equation, which put Sherry behind the wheel for us. Driving on the opposite side of the road to home was no problem for her and she got us home safely. She had a bit of practice one night before that when we did a little touring around after going to the movies and she handled it all pretty well. Once we got back to the boarding house I decided to bust out a dance party for the girls getting them fired up with hits from the 90's. It all started with a little Ghetto Superstar, which progressed into everything from Boyz II Men, Montel Jordan, The Fugees, Smashing Pumpkins and so many more....there was even some Wilson Phillips splashed in there for Sherry. It was a hilarious walk down memory lane which hopefully didn't cause the neighbours too much pain as the girls belted out there best karaoke voices while dancing like nobody was watching. It is kind of funny looking back on it now - all the new experiences are absolutely amazing but sometimes taking time to relive the old ones brings you just as much enjoyment.
The next morning we loaded up the vehicle with the SUP and headed North for a place called Kalbarri National Park. Of course we had Jess and Nigel on board with us for this adventure as well. Along the way we stopped at one of Western Australia's pink lakes, which gets its name...wait for it....because the water is Pink! It kind of looks like if pepto bismol were to come naturally from the earth, this would be the place. Scientist's apparently still don't know exactly what causes this, but believe it has something to do with the bacteria in the salt crusts. Being as i don't have my monthly subscription to World of Science right beside me, I am going to have to go with that for now. After a few photo's we were back on the road again and before long we were doing some off-roading as we made our way through Kalbarri National Park. What we arrived to I think can be best described as Grand Canyon like scenery. Red and rocky mountain sides, spilt by large, deep waterways were all around us. The views where breathtaking and the pesky flies, well they where annoying as hell, but it wasn't enough to detract from this amazing natural landscape. I will have lots of photos posted of our time at the park but in case you are keen for some more info I have attached a link http://www.kalbarri.org.au/. The big ticket item at the park is Natures Window which is a rock formation that, as its name aptly describes, is in the shape of a window....a large window. Through the window is an amazingly beautiful view which has been the backdrop to millions and millions of tourist photos over the years. After several photos we hiked our way back to the car park (I am learning to be more literal in my descriptions through my Aussie interactions) and made our way back along the shore making a few stops along the coastline to enjoy the incredible views out over the Indian Ocean. Nigel was driving by this time and with possible rain creeping in around us we made a B-line for the beach to get a swim and SUP in before the weather turned. We tossed the truck into four wheel drive and headed down the beach pulling up wherever we wanted as we had the place all to ourselves. After a couple hours of relaxing on the beach we loaded up and started our trek back home, but not before a quick stop at a road side heritage site which was Port Gregory Convict Hiring Station back in the 1850's. This is where criminals from Britain would be deported to, housed and then if they were not too dangerous, they would be assigned farming jobs around WA. If they didn't make the cut for the work world, they were sent down the coast to Fremantle where they would be imprisoned. It was pretty cool to walk around this piece of history, taking time to appreciate a very impactful piece of Australia's history.
The following day (Sunday) would be our last day in Geraldton for a little bit as we made plans to head to Melbourne and then onto Queenstown, New Zealand. We made the most of our day though starting out our morning with some beach time and then heading out to a small animal rescue centre called Greenough Wildlife Park. Here we got to get up close with many of Australias native animals for just $10 each. Dingo's, emus, ostriches, crocodiles, birds, snakes, camels and of course kangaroos - they had it all. There was even an albino Kangaroo hanging out at this place. You even get to feed the animals, which was a lot of fun when we got to the Kangoroos who would prop themselves up on the fence like a parent watching their kid at a baseball game and then would jostle around getting into position for the feeding. This became known as kangaroo selfie time for Angel and Sherry. On the way back to town we made the traditional tourist stop at the leaning tree for a photo, then it was back to the boarding house to pack. You will see photos of the leaning tree coming soon and I will describe it better there. But the short and sweet if it is the the winds of off of the west coast apparently blow so hard that they force the trees to grow low and to the ground in the same direction as the wind is going - this is not entirely true as there is some more science to it the that but I will explain that later in the pictures.
Alright, that seemed like a lot and hopefully I didn't lose too many readers along the way. This won't be the last you will hear of Gerladton but it is time to move onto our travels to the east which where filled with lots more fun and craziness. Thanks for hanging in there and please don't hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you ever have questions about our travels and are looking for more info. It is so hard to pack it all in and I know I have left lots out.
Shayne and Sherry