Here’s a brief sampling of things I have supposedly “known” in my life, but didn’t really appreciate until they inconvenienced me in some capacity:
– You should reapply your sunscreen every few hours, especially after spending time in the water.
– There’s more booze in a White Russian than you’re actually tasting.
– Western Australia is a ridiculously huge, empty, expensive place.
I just wrapped up about 10 days on the west coast, traveling from Perth up to Broome. There were plenty of good times, but they were just brief dalliances to break up the incredible amounts of monotonous driving… and driving… and driving some more.
Folks, you haven’t lived until you’ve spent 24 hours straight on a Greyhound Bus without seeing anything resembling civilization in the process. It boggles the mind.
Perth to Broome with Western Xposure
March 24th – 28th
Spending ten days camping across the Nullarbor toughened me up. Five days up the west coast sounded like small potatoes in comparison. And sleeping in actual beds instead of tents at night? Pssh, this was going to be child’s play.
Starting a new tour
One of my favorite parts of going on these adventure tours is the first morning at 7am, when people board the bus for the first time. Like a mob of Romero-era zombies, a group of complete strangers quietly staggers aboard, picks seats, and falls asleep almost immediately. Without any conversation to guide me, I attempt to assign everyone a nickname and figure them out based on looks alone.
Usually I’m wrong, but in the past I’ve been right about a few, including:
– “Quiet Nerd”. Presumed backstory: his backpack is so heavy because it is full of calculators he will spend his evenings playing with, instead of being social and hanging out with rest of us.
– “Typical Asian Tourist Girl”. Prediction: she will throw up the peace sign in a few dozen photos daily. I will do it too, just to be silly.
– “The Beer Brothers”. Observation: they had a big night last night, and are still drunk. This will be a common occurrence.
– “The Tour Floozy”. My inner monologue: Dude, move your bag off of the seat next to you so it looks available!
Everyone boarded, I played my little nickname game, and then we were off.
Same bus, different tours
The bus we were on was doing a 14-day roundtrip between Perth and Broome. You could pay for any number of days up to 14, so different people were with the tour for different lengths of time.
I booked five days, which would leave me in Exmouth so I could spend a few days there doing an advanced course. Some people booked 10 day tours, which would take them to Broome but allow them to fly back to Perth. Some people booked the full 14 days, and regretted it as soon as they realized what a strange creature our tour guide was.
Julie the tour guide
Our tour guide was a loud Kiwi named Julie who always found a reason to get mad at someone about something — sometimes deservedly, but usually because she’s just an insane control freak. She was fine most of the time, but once in awhile her temper would flare up and someone would get chewed out.
Our first run-in with angry Julie came late on the first afternoon, when she got extremely pissed off at two Norwegian guys for drinking beer on the back of the bus. This was in the 30 minutes between buying the beer at the bottle shop and arriving at our night’s accommodation. Apparently beer on the bus is illegal, but so is not wearing a seatbelt; however, she never made anyone buckle up.
The second tongue-lashing was on the second morning. We were the only people staying in a large guesthouse which had more rooms than we required. We weren’t supposed to go into any of the extra rooms, yet the doors to all of the rooms were wide open in the morning. She didn’t know who to blame, so we got yelled at us as a group for not following directions. What actually happened is that I went “missing” in the middle of the night and some people got worried and scoured the property to find me (more on this later).
Later that morning, we went for a hike after being advised to wear shoes instead of flip-flops. Some people shrugged and disregarded the advice, while others simply didn’t have any proper shoes to wear. Halfway through the hike Julie noticed that the small contingent of flip-flop footed fools, and started screaming at them for ignoring her advice: “If you don’t want to listen to your tour guide, I can kick you off the tour right here and you can enjoy the rest of your trip doing things your own way!”
Almost every major road-accessible tourist attraction in Australia has a special section of parking lot reserved for tour buses. These reserved spaces are usually closer to the action than the standard spaces, so you’ll occasionally see some people disregard the sign and park their Honda Civic in the bus zone. Normally this is no big deal, but you should only park in Julie’s spot if you have a death wish.
The best explosion was on a morning that we stopped at a small grocery store to restock our food supplies. While we loitered around the bus waiting for Julie to finish the shopping, we noticed a liquor store down the street. Seduced by the siren song of cold beer, the majority of our group wandered down the street to restock on alcohol. Julie came out of the grocery store soon after we left, and found an rather empty tour bus. By the time she finally gathered everyone up, she was livid. The people who didn’t go to the liquor store got screamed at for not trying to stop us from going. The ones who went got yelled at for delaying the bus, messing up the schedule and ruining the day. When we eventually pulled into our night’s accommodation well ahead of schedule, we considered calling her on her mistake, but figured that would only further anger the beast. Instead, we quietly enjoyed our ample supplies of cold frothy delight.
We stopped to see “The Pinnacles” at the Nambung National Park.
Some of the pinnacles were far more interesting than others.
A night in Jurien Bay: Port and Corona
Our accommodation for the first night was a guesthouse right next to the ocean in a small town called Jurien Bay. We went in for a dip at sunset, and were surrounded by jumping fish and even a small jumping eagle ray.
Some of us stayed up long after everyone else went to bed: Andreas and Christopher from Norway, Saskia from Germany, and Jonathan from Luxembourg.
Saskia didn’t pay attention at the liquor store and accidentally purchased a 4-liter box of sickeningly sweet port, instead of something more “reasonable” like a 4-liter box of Merlot. She convinced us that we should try to drink it all in one night, so that she’d be free to buy a box of something more palatable the next day. This is classic backpacker logic: even if it’s gross, you paid for it, so you need to make sure someone drinks it before you spend any more money.
We sat on the second floor balcony all night long, overlooking the ocean and double-fisting bottles of Corona and bottomless cups of cheap dessert wine. We fought over the music. One minute we’re listening to Mozart, conducting Eine kleine Nachtmusik with our beer bottles; the next and we’re dancing cheek-to-cheek as Sinatra croons Strangers in the Night.
My six-person shared room was hot and stuffy, with the lingering aroma of a fart or two. I grabbed my sleeping bag and went to slept out in the parking lot. I woke up a short time later to people shouting “we found him!” and trying to carry me back into my room. I hadn’t told anyone where I was going; someone saw my empty bed in the middle of the night and got worried. Half of the tour group woke up to search for me, thinking that maybe I’d gone down to the beach and drowned. After a few minutes of protesting they left me alone and headed back to their rooms full of hot, drunken flatulence.
Hungover assistant tour guide
Our tour bus was technically a tour TRUCK. The driver sits up in a truck cab, which pulls the special passenger trailer. It gets lonely up in the cab, so Julie had a rule: every day a different person has to join her up front.
I wasn’t firing on all cylinders in the morning, and was the last one boarding the bus. As I got into the back to take a seat and sleep off whatever traces of port and Corona lingered in my system, Julie informed me that my gracious tourmates had volunteered me for duty. Instead of sleeping peacefully in the back, I had a day full of keeping the driver awake and alert up front. Just. Freaking. Wonderful.
The one saving grace was that Julie gave me permission to make liberal use of the tour guide microphone. If I wasn’t going to get any sleep, then neither was anyone else. I spent the entire morning narrating the sights, telling horrible jokes and generally trying to be as annoying as humanly possible. Payback is a bitch.
As we drove on the second afternoon, we watched the temperature outside climb higher and higher. Right after it hit 43 degrees celsius (109.4 degrees fahrenheit), we passed by a little blonde girl trying to hitchhike out in the middle of nowhere, absolutely baking in the afternoon sun. We didn’t stop for her; I decided that if she died of heat stroke, we were prime candidates for some back-from-the-grave haunting.
The Dolphins at Monkey Mia
Monkey Mia is famous for the wild dolphins that visit the beach each morning for a free handout — get a job, hippy!
To explain the phenomena briefly, three times a day there are organized feedings in which tourists line up in the shallows, hoping for the chance to hand a dead fish to a hungry dolphin. In order to be eligible for carcass-handling you have to listen to an angry park ranger bore you with dolphin facts for half an hour, and somehow manage not to get yelled at in the process.
If you are standing too deep in the water, you get yelled at. If you attempt to touch a dolphin, you get yelled at. If you give the ranger the stinkeye, you get yelled at. I’m not saying these are bad rules, but it makes for an awful lot of yelling.
I got tired of listening to people get yelled at for various infractions, and wandered off in search of my own food after learning this fun fact: it is very common for a gang of male dolphins to kidnap a lady dolphin and take turns mating with her for days on end, not letting her escape until they’re confident that they’ve successfully knocked her up. The ranger then pointed to a baby dolphin and its mother, explaining that the baby was the result of a time two years ago that mommy disappeared for 60+ days.
That sound you hear right now is all of my female readers squirming uncomfortably in their seats. Hello ladies!
Later on the 3rd day we went to check out some stromatolites, possibly the most boring tour stop on the history of all tours. I still don’t know exactly what a stromatolite is, and frankly I don’t want to.
Coral Bay is a tiny beach town (population: 190) right off of the Ningaloo Reef. Just grab a mask and fins and swim a few meters offshore, and you’re snorkeling in an aquatic wonderland.
We stopped in Coral Bay on our 3rd night, and spent the evening drinking beer on the beach, singing our national anthems and staring at the stars.
Our 4th day started with a free morning/afternoon in Coral Bay. Most people paid lots of money to go on some sort of day tour: snorkeling with whale sharks, glass bottom boat trips, etc.
While everyone was out on their mini-adventures, I sat around all day reading my book, hiding from Julie and working on my tan. I couldn’t bring myself to spend $400 to spend a few hours snorkeling with the whale sharks, especially when I had just spent that much money on my 3-day Exmouth diving course.
Very similar to Coral Bay, but larger (population: 1995). There’s not much to do except fishing, snorkeling, diving, etc.
Since there aren’t many bars, and no nightclubs, it can be hard to find something to keep your occupied at night. We spent the 4th night of our tour hanging around at some picnic tables until we were kicked out for making too much noise. We relocated, and began reveling in a lovely moonlit field full of kangaroo shit.
Exmouth Scuba Adventure
March 29th – April 1st
I got off the tour after five days in order to take a scuba diving course in Exmouth. I’ve been certified at a basic level since I was 15, but I thought it might be fun to upgrade to an advanced certification.
I needed new photos for my license.
I found the advanced course itself to be ridiculously easy. I’ve probably been on around 100 dives in my life, so I’m at ease while diving. It seemed that everyone else in my advanced class had only passed their basic class the week before, and stayed on for the advanced because they had nothing better to do.
We studied and were tested on things relating to deep diving, underwater navigation, advanced buoyancy control, and fish/invertebrate identification. I handled everything without a problem, whereas some of my fellow students actually got lost during their navigation test. Oops.
I got on the Greyhound bus in Exmouth around 10:30pm on a Thursday. I got off the bus in Broome around 8pm on a Friday.
The ride was boring, and it was incredibly hot in Broome. All I wanted was a cold beer, and was all set to have one until I was informed that alcohol sales were banned due to it being Good Friday. Ugh.
April 2nd – 4th
A cool coincidence I hadn’t planned: almost all of my old Perth-to-Exmouth tour crew had made it to Broome ahead of me, and were staying at the hostel I checked into. It was good to see everyone again, especially since I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye when they left Exmouth.
My friend Essi from Finland and I went to check out Matso’s Brewery, which boasts such strange brews as mango beer and alcoholic ginger beer. These were pretty great, but I was less impressed by their signature cardamom-infused wheat beer… a strange combination.
It was so hot in Broome that the hostel pool wasn’t much of a relief. Even in the water, you could still feel yourself sweating. Still, better to be wet in a bathing suit than in your dry clothes.
We missed the legendary sunset at Cable Beach by just a few minutes. It’s OK, we had priorities: we were enjoying cold beer back at the hostel and lost track of time.
Before bed I ran into some girls who sounded American, but they turned out to be from Bermuda. My friend Jonathan really wanted to fool around with one, not because she was attractive, but due to some logic that came down to “Luxembourg and Bermuda are both so small, what are the chances?”.
I flew from Broome to Perth, spent a few days there, and now I’m back in MELBOURNE! Time to start something resembling a life!