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Geraldton Life – Outdoor

Published on 27/11/2010 By Fabio

Yo yo – (Brazilian Laura would say I have a “yo yo obsession”),

In my previous post I tried to render the vibes of the Geraldton hostel life; here I will mention a few cool things to do outside! This post will have few(er) words and more images!
The town is quite small, so from the hostel I was able to walk to any supermarket or shop, anything would be within one km. Free wi-fi was the driving force behind a lot of my walking: unfortunately, the public library closed down for renovations just two days after I got there, so the only alternative was McDonald’s connection. I finally understood why their air conditioning is so bad – to push the wireless junkies out.

As you can see, Geraldton is the typical outskirt town, with short but large buildings surrounded by wide roads. The night shot is the street between the hostel and the beach, fantastic for short dusk walks.

I have also been surfing: this is the best available shot that a Nothern Irish friend took from the shore. Not a massive wave you’ll notice, but hey, standing on the board is quite of a task already, for a beginner!

One day we went with the entire Taiwanese crew (plus a Japanese element) to a Wildlife Park, 20 km south of Geraldton. Rather than the classic cagey zoo, it was a family run business with large open-air pens where animals roam around. Well, still not freedom I guess. Anyway, I am finally able to show the uttermost symbol of the nature peculiarity of this country: the kangaroo! Have you ever wondered why kangaroos, unique among the biggest mammals, hop? Because it’s more efficient to cover long distances at medium speed! The energy of the bounce is stored in the tendons of the legs – much like in a pogo stick – while the intestines bounce up and down like a piston, emptying and fillings the lungs without need to activate the chest muscles. Brilliant and a total energy optimization when you have to travel long desert distances to find little food. They need one-fifth less food than equivalent size mammals!
Everybody knows their shape, but probably few have seen them from so close. Their facial expression is phenomenal! Eyes barely open (maybe also for efficiency purposes?), they look like half asleep at the bar after a night out drinking!

Another cool pet to meet was the Australian pink parrot: as you approach, it pulls its feathers up and stretches one leg out, absolutely seductive! I have videos where it says things like “What are you doing?”, “How is it going?”, “Come on!” and so forth. I had actually never heard a parrot “speaking”, so I found it pretty exciting!

Another funny thing was to be able to hold a baby python! At some point I had it around my neck, and the little fella, obviously eager to practice, began to tighten the grip! Not to any harmful level of course, but it definitely affected my breathing. I think my mixed feelings are well visible on my face – what a horrible death it must be to die strangled.

On the way home, we spotted another nature attraction of the zone: due to the constant massive wind, some trees have adapted to grow horizontally! This is no joke, nor an accident: they just grow like that, following the wind direction. Pretty amazing to see, that tree was maybe 10 or 15 meters long! There was one in the middle of the city but was quite smaller.

I loved the time in Geraldton as it gave me the opportunity to slow down a bit after two very fast months. It was totally “chillax” (as my friend Ash there would say) and cheap. I met loads of nice people with whom I’m sure I will stay in touch. If I think about it now, it feels like I’ve spent only two days there – time flies when you’re having a good one.

The Surfing End

Published on 23/11/2010 By Fabio

Hey, how are you doing today?

In the last post we’d just spent a night in Meekhatarra… and that was actually to be the last night of the road trip. That day, Becky and I came to the conclusion that not only we live at the antipodes, we’re also antipodean people. We thus decided to pull the plug of the road adventure one week earlier than scheduled. Instead of driving further North, we headed for the coast and just after lunchtime she dropped me off at Geraldton. Check here for the final map of our journey.

So there I am, alone again. The first hours in town were definitely quite frantic and anxious. I was walking under the sun with all my stuff + food on my shoulders, and couldn’t find accomodation. I even considered buying a small tent to go camp in the wild, but in the end I was able to enter a single room in a sleazy hotel that was also a skimpie bar and a liquor store (sic). There, I kinda recollected myself and started arrangintg stuff for a better tomorrow… and indeed the next day the wind changed for the better: I found a bed in a great, cheap hostel full of friendly people and in the afternoon (just 24 hours after arriving in town) I was on a sunny beach attending my first surf lesson!

Surfing is really a lot of fun! Within the first lesson I was already able to stand on the speeding board for… quite some seconds. My instructor Keith is a very cool guy, and I can now understand what’s the story with all the people who go nuts and drop everything they have to move to some sand island and surf all day!

The only downside of this lovely town is its constant wind, strong to the point that all trees grow up bent on one side – which I had only previously seen on top of some mountain! You would think that it’s good for surfing but it actually isn’t: the waves are maybe a bit higher, but the wind is destabilising and it makes it harder to stand on the board.

In this new hostel situation, I am also trying to save some money while I’m here – the road trip was being quite expensive between fuel and drinks. So I’m visiting the supermarket quite often, and one of the funny thing I noticed is that special offer & cards here are mostly related to saving on fuel: like, every 30 dollars in Woolworths you get a 8 cent/litre discount on gas. One could argue that, this way, they loose grip on all those people like me who don’t care about fuel, but actually this kind of marketing is a perfect indicator of the role of cars here. Woolworths doesn’t care about people who don’t have a car because… we are so few that we are completely neglectable. Everyone here has got a car. Cars rule. While in Amsterdam everything is built around bycicles, here it’s all about cars. There is one crossroad here in Geraldton where the waiting time for pedestrian is RIDICOLOUS, and you might see the same lane getting the green twice before you! The Greyhound bus service isn’t capillary┬ánor cheap – that’s maybe why I looked for a ride at the hostel:

This hostel also complies with another feature of most toilets I have tested in Western Australia: when you open the “cold” water tap, the water is warm anyway as the pipes are exposed to the sunlight! Traveling on this side of the world, I also get to meet a diverse traveling crowd: I have a lot of Taiwanese and Japanese mates – never seen a Japanese in a hostel before -, mostly here for work. One day we had a barbeque to celebrate the birthday of a Taiwanese girl. Well, I’d never had octopus tentacles at a barbeque!
I am also finding time to read my books, which is the second time this happens in two months of traveling. The first book I read was “Ignore Everybody” , a fantastic birthday present from Nick. Now it’s an Agatha Christie classic, which I actually bought in a second-hand bookshop in Sydney. Maybe some Italian reader can guess which one it is from a few words?

I have actually just finished that book, so I went to another second-hand bookshop here in Geraldton, and there’s a nice story here to tell. I went to the “foreign language” section, to find that she only had two italian novels and pretty crappy ones too. I then spent a good 20 minutes checking the Dutch books, and finally chose one, a 1961 book for 3,50 dollars. As I show it at the counter, the old, red hair woman examines the price sticker and says: “Ah, I recognize this sticker, it’s the kind that the previous owner used, and that means that this book has been here unsold for at least 5 years. Just take it!”
That book now is now for me a lot more precious than three dollars and fifty cents. Such little stories always shed a positive light on your day.

Outback Drive

Published on 20/11/2010 By Fabio

Hey there fellows!

We left Kalgoorlie at about 8, after having had a modern, continental breakfast at the hotel. The morning road was quite smooth, except a deviation that we took to go see an important nature / artistic site: a vast, flat salt lake (Lake Ballard), where 51 “primitive” metal statues have been scattered all over. Would have been very interesting in principle, but it was deadly hot and there were too many flies to actually enjoy it. We climbed on a tiny hill to check the view out and then went back to the car, also because the statues were truly horrible.

Ah, there’s a great entry today for the “New Animal of the Post” category. Just after the lunch stop, an odd lizard crossed our way. Its body was so stubby and the head moved jerkishly. And its legs were so tiny and they practically didn’t bend, so that the funny lizard was SO slow that we had all the time to go back, get down the car and take pictures. From an evolutionary point of view, I believe this animal was just one step above the aquatic life and I wondered when it actually stopped evolving. Crocodiles and turtles are said to be among the oldest creatures on Earth; I’m pretty sure that when they played at the kindergarten, this lizard had already applied for retirement.

The drive to the next destination was the toughest so far, 175 happy kilometers on a red, desert gravel road. True outback drive.

The night was probably the funniest part of the day. We arrived to Meekatharra, which is a true outback town: 4 buildings of which 3 saloons and a fuel station. We had quite a few drinks in one of them, and got to meet a representative slice of population, which there switches significantly to Aboriginal. There were at least 15 of them in the bar, most of whom part of the same family. Here you can see the father of many at the bar.

It was interested to chat with them. Unfortunately, most of them stinked of alcool, and generally looked pretty wasted and poor. I made the bug mistake of give up and buy one of them a drink, and from that point on they would ask for another one every time that they would come next to me. At least I also got told that I have a “very lovely ass”.

Exhibitions of “traditional art” and museums about Aboriginal life are everywhere, but statistics about their present conditions are awful. Every city has some Aboriginal museum, they describe what their life was before the colonization, they admit that they destroyed all of it and they can’t say sorry enough. There are pictures of ministers shaking hands with black, big nose people, upon recognition of their rights with a delay of some 200+ years.

My cynical feeling so far is that Australian people tend to cling to the Aboriginal culture to showcase a past that they don’t really have.

Personally, I found it unusual when I first traveled to the US. Being Italian and grown up in Rome, surrounded by the most majestic ruins and history in the world, I’ve always had a past to look back at, be kind of proud of and to use to understand my present. But in these “new” countries, what’s the past they should look at to understand their present? English history, probably, a country at the other end of the world that, in this case, used Australia as a penal colony. I reckon that is not very exciting.

In no Australian museum you will see “life in London in the late 1700”. It’s not very poetic, that’s probably why they show old Aboriginal graffiti and boomerangs instead. But the English lifestyle and weapons, that’s what they should show. Because in nowadays Australia there is NO TRACE AT ALL of Aboriginal culture, except when they are quoted as drunken troublemakers. Outside the museums, of course. Does this remind you of Native Americans, anyone?

We decided that the rooms in the hotel were too expensive so we went for camping at a nearby Caravan Park: dirt sites and water facilities. I slept great in the tent and this is the image as I opened it the next morning, with my 3.99$ flip-flops waiting for me.

Golden Skimpies

Published on 16/11/2010 By Fabio

Heeey, how ya going?

We left Esperance in the late morning, for another leg of the roadtrip. Today’s distance is shorter than the first day (described in The Road to a Roadtrip), “only” 4 hours and a half, so no before-dawn departures.

Driving on these highways is very different than any European cruising experience. Roads are straight till the horizon most of the time and there is nothing next to them, except road signs here and there. No lights, no gas stations, no phones for emergencies and no guardrail.

At about 14:30 we reached our destination, Kalgoorlie, the most important of the mining centers of Western Australia up to date. Everything is about gold mining here, an activity which never stopped since the gold rush started in the 1890s – the oldest buildings in town look like the saloons & co. that we see in Western movies!

We visited the local museum, where I could finally see real Gold Nuggets – I’d read about them Uncle Scrooge’s comics since I was a tiny kid!

We then jumped in the car again and went to the lookout on the Super Pit: the biggest open air gold mine in Australia, 3.8 km wide. It really is an impressive sight. Especially the machineries that are used, those building-sized trucks which carry 250 tons of rocks out of the mine. They are 6.5 meter tall and any human being could stand in the middle of the wheel! It costs some 2000 bucks to learn how to drive them and then all you get to do is go up and down the mine at soporific speed.

At that point it was about six, and we decided to begin a sort of “saloon crawl” through the local bars. Which introduced me to a unique feature I’d never seen before.

Being this a mining town, the market has developed around a very gender-unbalanced population where miner men are the absolute majority. There are plenty of strip clubs and brothels as usual, which is common in places built around typical male jobs (Amsterdam, anyone?), but here the phenomenon reaches such epic dimensions that a different form of entertainment has developed: the Skimpies.

They are basically waitress who only wear lingerie, and once the tip jar has been filled up by customers, take their bras off and work for 45 minutes topless, after which they go back to collecting tips till the jar is full again. It’s as simple as that.

I was totally impressed. I had visited a proper strip club in the US, and there you find a lot of security, the atmosphere is kinda trashy and you are surrounded by frustrated, rich men in their 50ies. The situation here is the perfect tradeoff between that and your most relaxed local bar. No entrance fees, nothing: imagine places like Coco’s in Amsterdam or La Ragnatela in Rome, with a very normal crowd, and topless girls that walk around and chat to everybody. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed, otherwise I would have taken heaps!

There were mostly miners there, all just back from work in their fluorescent jackets. We shared drinks with a few of them, all obviously totally used to the nudity and amused by seeing myself so amazed! I was listening to their stories about working in a mine and they actually confirmed my feeling that driving such a giant machine is only fun for the first hours, then it becomes a slow mammoth.

After that we went back to our hotel for a final drink and then to bed as many, many kilometers of paved and unpaved road were ahead of us the next day…