Fremantle, Western Australia
March 19th – 23rd, 2010
[I’m having some trouble uploading all of my photos at the moment, so I’ll probably do a bonus PHOTO BLAST post later.]
I found the city of Perth proper to be bit of a yawner (probably since I’m not a cashed up bogan or an Irish backpacker), and after a week there I was after something a bit more exciting. I’d heard good things about a few of the suburbs: Subiaco, Cottesloe, and Fremantle. How to choose? Easy: follow the beer! Fremantle is the home of my favorite brewery in Australia, Little Creatures.
I paid $3.60 to ride the train from Perth to Freo, and enjoyed a few enjoyable days and miserable nights.
An Aside: The Good v. The Bad
I’m having a fun time on my adventures, but I feel like I resort to a lot of petty bitching when I post my tales online. This isn’t because I’m sitting around all day hating life — quite the opposite, in fact. This annoyed me for awhile, but I’ve come to terms with and embraced it: it’s a feature, not a bug.
I think it’s because I’m not sure how to relate of my happy but rather pedestrian experiences in an engaging way, e.g. “I sat on a bench at the park all afternoon, reading my book and enjoying the breeze”. Not very interesting, compared to “The guy in the bunk under me was truly a disgusting creature. His version of showering was to lift up the sides of the chowder-encrusted tee he slept in, spraying a woefully brief mist of Axe Body Spray directly into each of his underarm stench epicenters”.
Let’s face it — these are the things I’ll remember thirty years from now, long after I’ve lost count of the beautiful sunsets and Swiss girls. These are the experiences that inside jokes are born from, and the ones that I hope will keep you reading this blog when you could be doing far better things with your time.
So, without further ado…
There aren’t a ton of accommodation options in Freo, and after looking at reviews on HostelWorld.com I decided to opt for Pirates Backpackers which has a slightly high “fun” rating, and a slightly low “cleanliness” rating, when compared to the averages. Holy mistake, Batman!
I thought I’d learned this lesson in the past, but apparently it slipped my mind: you can always leave your clean, boring accommodation to go find some trouble. You can not always leave your stiflingly hot, bedbug-ridden hovel with charming bohemian characters to go find an air conditioned bed.
Basically, the place was fun except for those 8ish hours per day I was expected to be sleeping in my room. Hell, I’d probably even have turned down an invitation to sleep in someone else’s room — if a girl’s room is hotter than she is, no dice.
Not only was my room hot and bedbug-infested, but two of the four beds were occupied by long-term residents: an English guy and an Irish guy who had been there for months and were not planning on leaving anytime soon. They each owned more stuff than could possibly fit in the backpacks they arrived with, and it was strewn everywhere. To help with the heat, they each had purchased personal cooling fans which were pointed directly at their beds, and their beds alone. They managed to fit their own personal mini-fridge into the room, and let me know on Day One that it was for their use only. Other than this brief orientation to the room, they largely ignored me and the various other guys cycled in and out to occupy the fourth bed during my five nights.
After spending some time in the common areas of the hostel I learned that there were a large number of other backpackers staying long-term — living and working in Fremantle and using the hostel as their frat house of sorts. I made friends with some of the more recent arrivals, including an American girl who had just spent the previous year living in Los Angeles, working at the Getty Museum. Knowing some people made place a lot more entertaining, pre-bedtime anyhow.
Most hostels have common areas which close at a certain time each night, to kill the noise so that people can get some sleep, but not Pirates. People stayed in the courtyard drunkenly shouting about this and that until the wee morning hours, while others sat in the TV Room watching Aladdin or other Disney cartoons with the volume maxed at 4am. This was great, since I had nowhere to be most mornings, and each minute spent in the courtyard was one I didn’t have to spend in my room.
Best New Discovery: “Chicken’s Ready!”, a drinking game involving various fowl noises
Best Overheard: “How about I lick that cat’s asshole? That’d impress you girls, right?”
Yacht Club DJs
On my first night in Freo I went to see some mashup DJs from Melbourne perform at a club called Metropolis. Yacht Club DJs are supposed to be Australia’s version of Girl Talk, and I love GT, so it seemed worth $15, and going through the standard Perth-area venue-entry privacy rape.
The Girl Talk comparisons were spot-on: if you like GT, you’d like Yacht Club DJs. A lot of it sounded like a cheap Girl Talk facsimile, but some of their material was very clever and original. I don’t have their album, and I don’t know the names of any of the songs, so all I can do is direct you to their Myspace page.
The show was interesting, but not nearly as interesting as a person I met.
As I’m talking with a group of people, a drunk guy comes up behind me and taps me on the shoulder:
“Hey mate, didn’t you come here alone?”
“Yeah, I just met these people.”
“Cool, I came here alone too. I was behind you in line and it didn’t look like you were with anyone. Do you work for the mines too?”
“The mines, mate. Do you work up in the mines?”
“No, why would you think that?”
“Oh, most guys who are out alone in Perth work for the mines. Me, I’m on my first day of my five days off. Nine days on up in a mining town, then they fly us down to Perth for five days off. Over and over.”
Drunk Mines Guy (DMG) and I chat. I tell him some travel tales, and he tells me what it’s like being 19 years old and working on a surface support team for an ore mining company:
– “It’s hot as hell up there. Like 40+ degrees at all times.”
– “Mate, to be honest all my boss and I do is sit in the Land Rover, blasting the aircon, and watching DVDs on a laptop. If something goes down in the mines, we get a call and we have to deal with it, but that hardly ever happens.”
– “I worked a few jobs after high school, but there’s no way I’d be making $120k anywhere but the mines.”
– “We have to stay sober up there — at night all we do is watch television shows on DVD and go to bed early… but for our five days off we get absolutely pissed.”
DMG was actually pretty entertaining. The stories were interesting, but the guy seemed to have the attention span of a puppy, and each story was interrupted by a few weird non-sequiturs, e.g. “Oi, look at that girl’s dress, mate! She looks like a disco ball. Let’s hang her from the ceiling and spin her.” Classic drunk guy, or so I thought. He offered me a drink for listening to his tales, which I accepted, and he ran off.
Later in the night I bumped into DMG again. He was much worse for wear, and offered me another drink. Always wary of getting into drink-debts with strangers, I declined. His response: “Well if you aren’t going to let me buy you a drink, at least drop some of my acid. I’ve been dropping heaps all night!”
Ding ding ding! Drunk Mines Guy is really Drunk Mines Guy on Acid” (DMGA). The evening suddenly makes a lot more sense. I end up opting for the free drink — I’ve never done acid, but I’m pretty sure I’d end up heading back to my bug-ridden hellhole of a hostel bedroom and clawing my face off after a single dose. Also, I’m pretty sure that this image would make for an excellent anti-Acid PSA.
An hour later, after the Yacht City DJs set is long over, DMGA spots me once again. He calls out for me to join him. I look, and he’s managed to corner one of the Yacht Club DJs guys. The DJ looks like a kangaroo in the headlights, perhaps thinking “How did I find myself in this conversation, and how do I get out of it?”. DMGA introduces me to the DJ, and we look at each other like “How do we both know this guy?”. The DJ excuses himself, and I decide to head home to bed.
– Girls in skimpy dresses getting into a fistfight! A sweet reminder of all that I’m missing back in Los Angeles: I miss you, Hollywood Blvd.
– I witnessed two little asian guys go into the guy’s bathroom, rip all of the toilet seats off of the toilets, then throw them into the dance floor crowd. A sweet reminder of an infamous “house-cooling” party my friends and I threw in 2006, after which we couldn’t find our toilet seat for days.
New Clothes, Old Clothes
After ten weeks of traveling, some of my clothes had seen better days. I decided to label a bag “Free clothes!” and load it up with stuff from my dirty clothes bag that I didn’t want to wash and lug around anymore. I left it in one of the hostel’s common areas and went out shopping for new shirts.
I got back a few hours later with $200 in new threads, and immediately encountered a guy wearing one of my old shirts. Strange, but OK… I gave it away, after all. Later that evening I saw yet another guy wearing one of my shirts. Then another. My bag of free stuff must have been like Christmas to these poor, slovenly backpacker types.
One guy proceeded to wear the same shirt for three days in a row. Somehow I doubt he washed it before wearing it. It came from my dirty clothes bag, and the guy looks like the kind of guy that helped me formulate the Law of Smells. Nasty.
Fish and Chips
A Fisherman’s Basket is one of the tastiest, least healthy lunches in existence. There’s nothing like heading down to the docks for beer-battered fish fillets, french fries, fried shrimp, fried calamari, fried imitation crab, and a fried pineapple ring. With a lemon. A completely yellow plate of delights. Visually repellent, but mmm-mmm good.
A prerequisite for my upcoming dive course in Exmouth is that I have a record of going on at least one dive within the last 12 months. Two problems here: I haven’t gone diving since April 2008, and I haven’t actually filled out a dive log book since 1999. I could have easily forged something, but I figured that some extra diving could be fun.
My travel agent jumped at the chance to book me on yet another adventure he’d make commission on, and $140 later I was booked on a day of diving the Rockingham Wreck Trail — an (alarmingly) densely-packed area of water featuring numerous sunken fishing boats, small crashed aircraft, and even a swing set that went missing from a local park after a cyclone.
The fun started a few meters offshore, so in we walked — a divemaster and his two charges — in full SCUBA gear, wading through the hordes of elementary school kids roughhousing in the shallows.
The visibility under the surface was horrible, but luckily there was a line to follow between the various attractions. The sunken aircraft were the best part: it was a lot of fun to swim into a Cessna through its open door, and swim out through the hole formerly occupied by the windshield, discovering an octopus wrapped around what remained of the controls.
Certainly not the best diving I’ve done, but I’m reminded of some wise words that my stepfather told me long ago, many years before I’d fully understood the meaning: “Diving is like sex. Even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.”
As soon as we were out of the water and put our gear away, a thunderstorm of epic proportions rolled into the area. We slowly made our way through the hail to the Little Creatures Brewery for our debrief, log book signing, and a few pints of heaven.
I’ve lost count of the number of people who have warned me off of the Mexican food in Australia. Most of it is prepared by people who have never tasted real Mexican food, have poor access to the standard ingredients, and consider it to be some sort of strange foreign delicacy. The whole situation makes me think of a faceless soccer mom in Tulsa, Oklahoma attempting to prepare homemade sushi for the family because she heard something about it on Oprah.
About half of the meals I eat here are southeast Asian in origin, due to the sheer number of Thai, Indian and Vietnamese immigrants who are happy to serve me heaps of spicy grub for under $10.
One fateful Sunday I was seduced by a sign reading “SPECIAL: 50% Off All Tacos”, after discovering that the Asian food court was closed for the day. Great, so the tacos would be In the $0.50-1.00 range, down from $1-2 range, right? WRONG — they were down to $4 from $8. Each. For a fucking TACO — hard shell, meat of choice, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, sour cream, and guacamole. Still probably a ripoff, but hey, how can you argue with HALF OFF?
Two rather blah tacos and a plate of chicken nachos later, I’m out $20 bucks, regretting my decision, and longing for Malo on Sunset, the Silverlake Burrito King, and Senor Fish in Echo Park.
– It took awhile to place the faces, but at the hostel I ran into a Scottish guy and an English girl that I shared a campfire the week before, near the end of my Nullarbor trip. “Hey, did you two share a campfire with a big group of people last week, at that weird place with all of the biting flies?”
– Our divemaster was a 22-year-old nerdy guy from Singapore, and despite his confidence regarding diving he seemed to lack it in all other areas. Instead of pointing out women on the beach and saying “hey man, she’s hot!” definitively, it was always an apprehensive “Hey man, that girl is pretty hot, right?”. As if he didn’t actually know, and just wanted to fit in… “This hail, it’s pretty bad, right?”, “This beer, it’s the best one they have here, right?”, “Me, I’m an annoying fraidy-cat who can’t form my own opinions, right?” etc.
On Flickr: Full Photoset