Tuesday, November 30, 2010

west side stories

A few experiences from the last Australian state I had left to visit... 
I started exploring Western Australia with a trip to the Kimberley.  The first day after driving for a few hours from Broome, our group stopped at Fitzroy Crossing to have lunch.  The local pub was across the street from where we were sitting and I ventured in to check it out.  Most of the outback bars I’ve been to have been pretty empty, but this one was different: It was packed full of drunk people - all Aboriginals - and this was at 1 pm on a Tuesday afternoon!  After learning about some of their history, I understand why they drink.  A sign on the wall read: If you hit a member of staff, the bar will close immediately.  A glassy-eyed man who identified himself as Joker came up to me and started chatting.  He asked where I was from and proceeded to tell me what a beautiful country Canada was, even though he’s never left the Kimberley region.  He welcomed me to his country, warned me about how dangerous it can be if you're not prepared for it and told me a story about rescuing lost German tourists on the land, who'd become delusional from dehydration after being in the bush for three days.  I was thankful I'd decided to see the area via a group tour :)  

A couple of days later we arrived at Bungle Bungles in Purnululu National Park.  Australia is full of seemingly random natural formations that are really interesting to see, and this place definitely falls into that category!  Bungle Bungles is a range of sandstone domes that have alternating orange and grey bands of colour - they almost look like giant beehives.  Although they’ve been around for an estimated 360 million years, only locals knew of their existence until the 1980s.  And they’re only expected to last another 20 millions years, which, relatively speaking, isn’t all that long.

Another stop on the Kimberley tour was at Tunnel Creek.  Here we went along the creek through a long cave to where it emerged on the other side.  We took sandbanks along the sides at parts and we had to wade through standing water at others.  At one point we stopped - our guide Cheryl had just noticed a sparkle as the light from her torch (a.k.a. flashlight) hit something up ahead....  Turned out it was the twinkle in a freshwater crocodile’s eye!  Our group stood there for a few minutes, mesmerized.  After the croc disappeared underwater - and, after Cheryl’s reassurance that it wouldn’t bother us if we didn’t bother it - we continued on our journey and waded through the same section of water the croc was in!  
The next day, back in Broome, I went to Cable Beach.  As soon as I got into the water to cool off the volunteer lifeguards evacuated the ocean... because of crocodiles!  Turns out saltwater crocs don’t abide by the same mutual avoidance philosophy.  Humans are part of their food chain!
Also in Broome, I got up early one morning to catch sunrise at Town Beach.  Tourists are advised not to travel alone in this city and I couldn’t find anyone else crazy enough to get out of bed at 4:30 am, so I opted to take a taxi rather than doing the 20-minute walk by myself.  Sunrise was beautiful - especially with the boab tree in the picture!  I was at the beach until after 6 am, when I started walking back to the hostel by myself.  About halfway back, I ran into an Aboriginal man wearing a striped button-down shirt and black jeans with no shoes who was walking in the opposite direction.  Our paths crossed and I said hello.  He stopped me to ask for directions, pointing towards where I'd come from: “I know my family lives that way, but do they live that way and then that way [gesturing a turn] or just that way?”  He didn’t seem drunk, but was extremely disoriented.  He nodded when I asked him if he would recognize it when he saw it.  “Just keep going then,” I told him.  And after a few more random questions, he did.

Along the west coast, the highlight for me was definitely Ningaloo Reef.  At Coral Bay, I decided to spend a day on a boat snorkeling with manta rays.  I have to say, this day trip was by far my best snorkeling experience ever!  In addition to the manta rays, I saw turtles, whales, dolphins, and sharks on top of a huge variety of tropical fish and coral - way more than what I saw at the Great Barrier Reef!  As I was watching the beautiful, brightly-coloured water creatures interact with each other, I couldn’t help but wonder if they judge or treat each other differently based on the colour of their scales.  My guess is that they don’t.  They all seem very supportive of each other.

On the way down to Perth, I left Australia briefly to visit the Principality of Hutt River.  Hutt River is an independent sovereign state about the size of Hong Kong that seceded from Australia 40 years ago because the man who owned the land didn’t want to abide by the farming laws the Australian government had just imposed.  This place has its own currency, postage, national anthem... I even got my passport stamped!  I also got to meet the royalty here - the creator of Hutt River, H.R.H. Prince Leonard, and his wife, H.R.H. Princess Shirley.  I didn’t have to go through Australian customs and immigration when I left Hutt River and re-entered Australia... in case you were wondering :)

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