Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Roadtripping, part 2

Click here for part 1

I'd arrived at this great planned destination of Broome.

Stayed there four days.

Nice enough, but it was too small, too remote, too expensive and didn't have enough work.

I mean, you have to pay $8 for a Domino's on a Monday. It's $5 everywhere else. What a travesty.

I'd looked for a campervan relocation to Darwin on the off-chance something would come up, and when something actually did, I decided that I was going.

4 days to see the Kimberley. For $5 a day.

Yeah, that was rushed.

And if I could get 9 people to go up the west coast, I could fill up a six-person campervan.

Though this one reminded me of why I travel alone: people are very good at wasting time, especially when supermarkets are involved, and this is not ideal when you have 4 days to get a campervan 1800km away.

Travelling alone up the west coast is prohibitively expensive though, so I didn't have much choice but enjoy the sights of Aisle 18 of Coles Kununurra.

Yes, I was surprised that a supermarket in Kununurra has 18 aisles too.

But I digress. What I saw of the Kimberley was awesome. What I have only seen in photos looks even  better. At some point I need to go back, and probably all the way to Exmouth while I'm at it. The joys of rushing.

Yeah, things never work out as you plan. Oh well.

As for driving - the road is just about wide enough for a campervan to pass a road train. Which means you slow down, get as close to the edge as you can without falling off and flipping into oblivion, and then hold your breath as all 50 metres of road train goes past you.

53.5 metres of iron ore. Or as I like to know it, 53.5 metres of hell as it passes you.
Extra fun if the road train is swinging about and all four trailers seem to be moving independently of each other.

I decided to overtake a road train at one point. After about one trailer I decided I didn't want to overtake it any more. I think everyone else was sleeping in the back because they most certainly wouldn't have approved.

Neither would my bank account if something had gone wrong. I'd put my last $1000 down on the bond for the thing, and after the events of the previous week most of my remaining money was with my best mate the taxman.

And I'd sworn I wouldn't turn up somewhere with barely $500 again. Oops.

The drama wasn't over either. Between Kununurra and Katherine there are two roadhouses, which are about 90km apart. Kununurra and Katherine are over 500km apart.

Roadhouse #2
So I filled the tank to an indicated 60% at the second roadhouse, 193km before Katherine. Given that diesel was 30c/litre more expensive here than in Katherine, I wasn't going to overdo it.

Then it dropped to 40% full.

30% full.


It was pretty much on empty as we got to 50km before Katherine.

This made no sense. I was getting 600km off a tank the rest of the trip, yet suddenly it uses 60% of a tank in not even 150km? Are there diesel-drinking vampires in the tank once you cross into the Northern Territory or something?

I mean, I'd heard anything goes in the Territory, but this was strange...

15km to go, speed down to 80km/h, and of course it was all uphill from here. Of course.

The engine cut out.

We're out of diesel.

Blues was following us but both jerry cans were full of petrol. Can't put that in a diesel tank.

Lucky he was following though. Drive 15km to Katherine, empty petrol into his car, fill jerry cans with diesel, return 15km, fill up the campervan. Say there was a diesel leak to hide your embarrassment at running out of fuel in the middle of nowhere.

Try to start the campervan, but now you need five people to push-start the thing. On a hill. Eventually get the thing started. Get out of there, fill the thing up in Katherine and get lost trying to find a campsite. Sleep in because it's only 3 hours to Darwin and it only needs to be returned by 3pm.

Then spend far too long in Subway and only just return it on time because you got lost in an industrial estate.

Someone once said that whoever put Darwin in the middle of nowhere was clever: by putting a medium-sized town a thousand miles from anywhere it feels like a big city.

And oh, it did. I got mild culture shock from this huge city that I'd just arrived in.

Which dissipated within 2 weeks when I realised it was the same size as my hometown.

Big enough to spend a few months though, I suppose.

A few months more than expected, anyway.

Just another evening in Darwin

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Roadtripping, part 1

So did I really think that I'd reached my destination when I hit Perth?

That was a while ago. I can't remember, but I doubt it.

Maybe I should have titled my last post something similar and it would have felt almost believable. Next post: The Escape from Darwin. Add it to the filmography.

Three and a half months picking melons in Waroona, 120km south of Perth, had given me a second year on my visa and an invoice for the chiropractor, but I had enough money to buy a car and get out of there. I made some great friends and had a brilliant time - even if it seemed to revolve around the dodgy shed we used as a party house, the lake next to the village or going to Mandurah, a city/extension of Perth that must be the most disappointing destination ever for most people but seems like the blessed land after wandering up and down the same 3 fields all week - but I had to leave.

In search of something like this
And I know that sentence was too long to read in one go, but I need another coffee before I can be bothered rephrasing it.

Three of us had kind of planned a trip up the west coast to Broome, a resort town with a beach, resorts, palm trees, another beach, and..... yeah. We'd convinced ourselves we'd get on to the pearling boats. If only.

In the end nine of us went.

And it took some tetris-inspired mastery to get nine peoples' luggage into two cars. And the hilarity of finding that Blues, the Taiwanese guy who owned the other car, had a large box intended for packing melons containing only a Michael Jackson calendar inside his "full" boot.

What a champion.

This might have been large enough for all our luggage
We'd gone and bought some ropes from Bunnings to strap everything on to the roof of the car actually, but apparently we didn't feel like making some extension of the second Inbetweeners by doing that.

What a shame.

Petrol filled up in the north of Perth, jerry cans filled, my shoes filled with petrol because I missed the jerry can, we were almost ready to head up to the Pinnacles, a couple of hours north.
Free campsite #1
It was all going far too well. White sand beaches, ragged cliffs, huge gorges, nearly hitting kangaroos that ran across our path because we were inevitably delayed in arriving at free campsites (because paying for accommodation is far too mainstream) - mother nature had to intervene and dump some water on our grand plans.

These are nice things to distract you from my ramblings
We'd arrived at a campsite somewhere between Shark Bay and Carnarvon some time after dark - which involved about three kangaroo near misses but more importantly 5km of unsealed road to get there.

This one isn't a free campsite. And he doesn't have ranger ID.

So when we got woken at some far-too-early-after-drinking-goon-all-night hour with the warning it was about to rain, it was time to do a runner.

After one of the guys decided to ask the owner of the campsite for his "ranger ID", to which he responded by offering to drive him to his house. Yeah.....nah.

We escaped to the nearest roadhouse (destination signs here tend to list about two roadhouses before the next town, because that's how remote it is out here) and beelined to Carnarvon, the nearest town.

And Carnarvon is depressing. So depressing. Even if it was pouring with rain and mostly seen through hungover, sleep-deprived eyes, it just seemed so miserable.

Extreme weather preparations in the northwest
So we got out of there. A sign warned us it was still cyclone season and that we should take enough water for a few days. Every time the road entered a depression, it seemed to be a floodway. Because when it rains up here, oh it rains. This is storm central. There's no wet season up here, purely because something might hit whenever it feels like it.

And we'd kidded ourselves into thinking we'd just travelled through the middle of nowhere. As if.

We must have arrived into Coral Bay just after lunchtime, through a thousand storms and enough humidity to make the sharks out on the Ningaloo Reef sweat.

There's a reef out there somewhere
Then came the news: Exmouth, a bit further north and a postcard perfect town, was cut off because it had just received a year's worth of rain in a weekend. Cut off, washed out - even if the road reopened, there wasn't much point going, because nothing would be open for a couple of weeks.

Mother nature. Thanks for that.

At least people camping up there wouldn't have had to worry about whether the campsite had showers. A cleansing mud bath. Lovely.

In the end we decided to just head northeast towards Karijini.

Except that road had been cut off by what felt like a river in full flow travelling across one of these floodways. Oh how my brakes got tested as we came over that crest.

You shall not pass
OK, turn around, go the long way around. Leave the tropics, fill up at the roadhouse, re-enter the tropics, keep going towards Onslow where we should be able to figure out an assault on Karijini.

Mother nature: the ultimate practical joker
It was a very familiar sight as we came over that crest. This creek was even deeper and flowing even faster. No chance.

So we took our photos of trying not to fall over in the floodwaters, got over this new novelty, turned around and left. After turning the Chillis up to full volume, of course.

And in all this, we'd missed that Blues was flashing his headlights at us from behind. He'd gone to speak to the driver of an empty car transporter.

He would have reversed us over the creek if we hadn't had gone around a few corners before stopping. You can't reverse a road train around corners.

What a story that would have been.

The staff at the roadhouse were surprised to see us again - we'd gone all 200km back on the basis that they had enough food for us all - and in the end we stayed a good few nights, waiting for the road to reopen and trying to persuade a truckie with a flatbed to take us over the creek.

This gets old well before the fifth time
And after all that, the creek was totally dry when we drove through it.

Probably could have stayed 30km away at the campsite and gone through the next day, but oh well. We made it to Onslow and settled in. Via a road that had 2 metres of water over it and 70 road trains waiting to pass just 12 hours earlier. Drains as quickly as it rains. What a rubbish rhyme.

No more of this
And of course we woke up to rain at 6am, and hadn't learnt the first time that camping down an unsealed road wasn't a good idea. But the trusty old wagon got us out of there and we were just going to beeline towards Broome now.

500km to Port Hedland shouldn't be too difficult. Stop at lunchtime in Karratha, fill up the tank. Easy.

The Pilbara: you're in mining country now
That was until smoke filled my car about 60km from Port Hedland, and we had to pull over. At this point we had no oil in the thing. Filled with oil, got 10km down the road before it started making noise again.

No, we're going to call a tow truck.

$370 later and we got to the golf club in Port Hedland, not a place I wanted to stay for long. Mentally exhausted by this point, I was in no mood to think about anything by that point and just passed out after the tenth can of spaghetti cooked on a gas stove in fewer days.

The joys of travelling, eh?

And this is a mining town, so everything costs more. Especially the mechanics. Hello poverty.

I had to wait 4 days before being able to see a mechanic about the thing, and I probably should have made some mining connections while I was there and got some sort of overpaid job doing nothing while I was at it.

Because it works something like that, doesn't it?

How did I cope?
I just wanted to get out of there.

So when the mechanic said there was just a small oil leak but it would get me to somewhere cheaper to get it fixed, I was straight on the road to Broome.

I made it about ten kilometres.

Press on the accelerator. Response: a clicking noise.

Try to go at more than 60km/h. Response: the automatic transmission shifts down gears.

Try to get to 80km/h. Response: the engine will cut out, you will open the bonnet, and there will be oil everywhere.

So much for a "small oil leak".

So I got a tow truck back to the mechanic that told me this, found out it was probably a blown head gasket, unloaded the thing and took off the number plates and left it there.

Blues had had some car trouble too so had stuck around, but everyone else had jumped on a plane to Broome already, so it was as easy as throw everything into his car and jump in and get the hell out of there.

Except I'd accumulated far too much in the knowledge I had a car now, and I had to leave a whole load behind. Yeah, I had a car for three weeks before it decided to give up on me.

And coming into Broome, there were so many midges and other insects flying around we had to turn the wipers on to just be able to see. That was new.

And I've gone on so much I need a second post to ramble some more about the rest of it. Fabulous.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Stuck in Darwin

I haven't posted in nearly a year.


Part of the reason is that my laptop screen got buggered on the trip up the west coast, and 9 months later I still haven't got that fixed. Because I've been so busy travelling.

Or not.

9 months ago I arrived in Darwin "for a couple of months". I still haven't left. Everyone else seems to have - even half the locals disappeared for January - but survival of the fittest or something.

I'm still a traveller at heart, and there's still a lot of Australia left to explore - an awful lot, and I could even do with going back and seeing some of the bits I planned on seeing out west but wasn't able to. More on that later - when I have some sort of device I can upload my photos on to. Give or take Australian internet, which ranks next to that of India for speed.

But sometimes it's good to stop and settle for a bit in a place you like - even if it's the anything-goes frontier town of Darwin. Sorry, capital city of the Northern Territory. Sorry tourism authorities.

In all seriousness though, I do like the place. Even if I get fed up of being stuck here from time to time - yes, I'm still a traveller. And with less than a year left on my working visa, I'll escape to somewhere else at some point. But who said travelling was about constantly moving around? I've made that mistake enough, moving too quickly, not experiencing a place - but sometimes you only understand a place by living there.

My first sunset here; they've only got better
Not that I understand the attraction of Carlton Dry or Teds, beers so devoid of taste they insist on chilling them on ice - I assume so you can't actually work out what it tastes like.

And I certainly wouldn't experience a tropical wet season at home, even if this one has been the worst in years. I wouldn't experience the build-up either - not that I'd wish that on anyone. Extra heat and humidity. Working outside. Fun.

But mangoes.

Benefits of the build-up: not many
Nor would your local paper be the height of quality journalism, the NT News. What a paper. Totally reliable, never blowing up the real risk of a cyclone hitting. Of course not. Better not be trying to get baked beans from Woolies any time soon - no chance.

It helps that I've been able to knuckle down, be boring, and save some good cash - to travel more in the future. Don't tell the government - they think I'm on holiday. A working holiday. Something which an old friend summed up brilliantly - "you come out here pretending that you're travelling everywhere by campervan, always sunning yourself - but really you just work like a Polish person and spend it all on overpriced beer". Quite.

This is 15 minutes away though...
Though some people do seem to live out of their campervans, but we judge them. Or maybe we're just judging them because they're mostly French, but there you go. I'm allowed one stereotype, right?

So yes, the grand tour will continue. Yes, I'll fix my laptop. And the trip is not complete, as I apparently said at one point. All is forgiven, past me.

I still haven't made it to Litchfield yet though. How bad of me. If only I still had a car. Or one with an intact head gasket, in my possession. 

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

You have reached your destination

Perth: 4pm on Tuesday. Total funds: about $500.

Might keep me going for a week, if I'm lucky.

The government think I came here with $5000 and enough for a return flight. No chance.

And you know what? Anxiety hit.

Travelling's not all fun and games, especially when the money runs out.

At least the sun was out. And as the city bus (I'm still a backpacker, no taxis for me) rolled through streets that seemed far too American for my liking (the road signs that is – they have roundabouts here), I wondered what on earth I was letting myself in for.

3 nights booked into a backpackers, and of course the wifi barely worked.

So I applied for a TFN and went for a $5 Domino's with Nolan, a French guy I met on the bus. First meal: pizza of champions.

I would describe the various menial tasks I did the next day, and really excite the three people who read my blog on a regular basis, but quite frankly, I'd rather trim my toenails. I was a bit stressed about jobs, and spent far too long on Gumtree. And got abused by the English manager about my apparent antics involving sheep.

Of course.

It paid off though: I was awoken the next day to a phonecall (on my new Aussie number, of course) being offered an interview for a milkman job.

Sounds good.

And for some reason, I liked the feel of Australia already. I don't know what it was, but there was something that, through the anxiety, I liked.

I was actually going to head out to see the kangaroos on the island around the corner, but then someone reminded me that they don't come out at midday and that I should probably wait for the evening.

So I headed for a job agency instead: the Job Shop in Northbridge.

I'd applied for a few roadhouse jobs with them, so I thought I'd show my face.

The receptionist stood up, checked my height, thought I was smaller than I actually was (no, I'm definitely not 5'7-5'8 thank you very much), fairly fit (thanks mate), and asked if I wanted some regional work 150km south of Perth.

That started tomorrow.


Money and my second year visa: sorted.

Picking melons. Which I didn't realise grew on the ground until someone at the hostel told me to enjoy my future back problems.

I'd have to get the train the next morning, and had a fairly long list of things I needed to grab.

The army surplus store never did so well off me.

By evening I was knackered, but thought I should probably see something of Perth that wasn't the CBD.

So I went down to the Swan River, and took photos of the CBD from the outside instead.

The CBD: yeah, that's it
The real reason was to go and see the sunset, which I hadn't done in far too long. I have far too many photographer genes in me: not so sure about them.

I had a good wander back after the free city bus that I thought would take me to the centre actually deposited me further out of town than I'd been when I started – but there we go, serves me right for not reading the display on the front.

Happens to the best of us.

Colonial architecture: check.

Lit up CBD: check.

It was all so good that I had to be interrupted by the French guys from the hostel who were coming the other way. They were heading for an Indian buffet where you could pay as much as you like.

An..... Indian buffet....... where you can pay...... as much as you like.

You can guess where I went.

And I pretended to speak French, as only I do. It was good fun.

Oh, and the food was good. I even tried to pay in rupees, which confused yet amused the poor staff, who had quite clearly not seen Indian currency in far too long.

I'm not sure what it is about the last few cities I'd been to, but maybe I'm mellowing. I liked Perth too. People who've stayed there a while have mixed opinions, but there's a fairly compact CBD, then it's got a provincial town feel, then you hit the suburbs. All sounds good by me.

That said, I never really saw anything of Perth. I was looking for jobs. I'm boring like that.

Train to Waroona: let's do this job thing.  

There's going to be more posts, even when I'm sat around working. I have to mindvomit sometimes. Oh, and I'm still travelling. Travelling never stops. There's always a next trip - or in my case, another destination on my escape from home for as long as is possible.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Smuggling chewing gum into Singapore

Singapore: sums it up
Getting to Singapore: bus to JB, state bus over the border, go to Queen Street bus terminal, walk to hostel.

Yeah, if only things were that simple.

The border crossing was one from hell. First of all, I got the wrong bus – though for a few cents more than the state bus it wasn't too bad.

Then we got to the Malaysian exit post. Stamped out. OK, let's go get the bus again.

It was a bus station affair downstairs – and as I got down the stairs, I saw my bus leaving. Without me.

I had no idea where the company's buses left from, so I just stood there – waiting for a bus to appear. Which was at the far end of the station. So I ran, backpack and all – and he wasn't going to wait for me.

At least I knew where the bus left from.

An hour later, I wasn't so sure.

So I just went and found any other bus heading in the right direction. “Kranji MRT” meant I could take the MRT to Little India and the hostel, so I went for it – and it was cheaper than going all the way to Larkin. And it wasn't Woodlands, which was the border post MRT station.

Ah, got it. Singapore border post crossed, chewing gum smuggled in (they only cared about cigarettes) and a fairly friendly welcome, and I looked for a bus from the same company.

I know how this works now.

Except Kranji MRT was actually further away than Woodlands, and required an hour's journey stood up in a silent carriage. I couldn't even chew gum to pass the time.

From fair-enough to ridiculous
At least it's straightforward enough, even if when I left Little India station it was tipping down and my flip flops, weathered by the Thai border post experience, really didn't approve of the slippery pavements.

So I settled in, avoided complaining about $5 beers, and enjoyed some “Australian steak with gravy” affair that cost me far too much. But it was blooming good. And the hostel was called the “Prince of Wales”, complete with requisite Welsh flag. I approved.

And my first full day was a Sunday, and I inadvertently went to church.

And stayed for a bit too!

Then the monsoon rains decided to say hello, and it was time to see Singapore in all its dull and dreary glory – skyscrapers, skyscrapers and more grey.

Even beneath the skyscrapers and dull environs of the city-state, there were still some elements of Singaporean history: the waterfront shophouses that would have looked a lot better if it hadn't have been tipping down with rain.

And there was a Russian family there, the father filming while the mother read out of the guidebook.

Yeah, who watches these videos?

By the looks on their faces, the poor children are forced to.

And I made friends with some locals, who took this amazing photo of me.

By this point, I needed my aircon fix again, so it was time to jump on the MRT to Chinatown, and enjoy some hawker food for the first time in a while. 5$ meals? Yes please! So I avoided the more touristic parts for a bit, and saw more shopfronts.

Then eventually I had to hit the Tourist Central which is Singapore's Chinatown, Inc, and of course the tooth relic temple.

Yeah, I can't see any tooth in there.

And there was a Hindu temple in Chinatown. Yeah, makes sense.

Eventually I had to go into some backstreets and hide from the usual tourist mecca that has so annoyed me so far, and I found an actual Taoist temple. Taoist temples are the only ones that seem to welcome you in with shoes on. Staying in tune with nature, this is, apparently.

OK, time for more modern stuff. Singapore is that kind of place, where I can just swap and change my mind as I wish.

Apparently people take boat trips round shopping centres.

I know this because the MRT deposits you in a shopping centre. The “only shopping mall with a UN membership” thing rings far too true.

Ah, they look EXACTLY THE SAME from this angle

Then of course I decided that I was having severe travel ADHD, and needed a mix of the two. Clarke Quay will do.

But by now, yesterday's border antics had got the most of me and I needed to sleep, before a bit of an evening photo session.

Oh yeah, enough of that. NEED MORE SKYSCRAPERS.

No, that's just overpriced clothing
And in the end, hardly any of the lights were on. Ah, Sunday night.

You know what? I ran around Singapore a lot, deciding I wanted to see something new. But Singapore provides: for a small city-state, it has a lot to offer, and with the MRT you can engage in travel ADHD to your heart's extent.

You can also give the place a good wander, even if the humidity of the monsoon season made me want to dive into the nearest shopping mall every now and then. And there are plenty of them too.

There's even these two gems in, appropriately, the Arab Street district:

So much culture crammed into one place: Singapore has history and a whole lot of diversity.

So much that I took the MRT over to Orchard Road – and they actually pronounce “Somerset station” with a Somerset accent.

But of course the monsoon rains had started, and so I had to hide inside...... shopping centres? Plenty of them here.

But getting in is always easier than getting out: there's a surprise.

After a couple of never-ending escalators, I found some sort of roof garden, and about 3 people in total. Wonder why that is.

What a view though
You know what: I like Singapore. There's something about it, in the diversity, in the crazyness, in the nutty nature of the ruling classes, that just shines through, and makes the place slightly awesome.

Even if it is a little too expensive.

At least you only need a couple of days to explore, and it's a fairly standard stopover – so a lot of people will end up there at some point, and half of them will probably hate it – but there you go. Cities are a bit hit and miss like that.

A fine way to end one hell of a trip: Australia's up next!

I'll blog a bit about my experiences there, even if I'm working quite a bit – and I've got a fair bit of miscellany (read: mind-vomit) to share (read: bore you with). So keep your eyes peeled for it!