Over the past week, I have been on a guided tour of the southwest region of Australia, below Perth. I'm happy to report it's a lovely and infrequently visited region, but teeming with wonderful and amazing sights. My groups was like a united nations of young twenty-somethings- three people from the UK, two from Japan, one from Taiwan, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, and a french Canadian. And of course, me, the lone American. The tour guide, when I introduced myself as American, smiled and said in his best cowboy-ish accent "From the goddamn United States," then asked if I could name all 52 states, which led me to questioning myself over the next couple of days as to whether I was mistaken and we had at some time gained two more without me knowing (hey, Pluto isn't a planet anymore and after calculus, zero was a weirder concept than ever- stranger things have happened to my elementary education). We all got along pretty well, the biggest scuffles of the week were tense discussions over whether the onions in the stir-fry needed to be chopped smaller and cooked before the other vegetables for dinner. We rode in a bus all week, and we each had our own seat, lucky people had a double seat. Followers of my blog will celebrate with me to learn I had the bottom bunk all week! (I was sneaky and got there first each time) I don't want to give you every single little detail, so highlights:
We stayed in Augusta, Albany, and two nights in Esperance. There is nothing that notable about the hostels or the actual towns, but I did notice, no matter how small the town, they always seemed to have an information center and a bottle shop (and we know the location of most of the bottle shops between here and Esperance. For the information centers, consult a map.)
The most amazing sight from the first day was probably the Ngilgi Cave (don't ask me to pronounce this.) I continue to be amazed at the things that Australian tourist sights allow common tourist to do, at least without signing dozens of wavers or something. Yes, Australia is far less litigious than America, but give it time. We climbed so deep into this cave and so close to the irreplaceable features, any idiot could have ignored requests not to touch and wouldn't have been caught and would have forever ended the growth of that figure in the cave. I don't know if it's because Australia is newer to this game, but I often feel there needs to be more fencing to protect these amazing sights from us. I have very little faith in the common tourist to not be a selfish idiot and think beyond "wow, I am getting to touch this even though I am not supposed to." But anyway, amazingggggg cave. Especially the portion known as the amphitheater. It apparently has near perfect acoustics, though I didn't test it.
Highlights of day two was the Bicentennial Tree (or what I like to call "Suicidal Crazy People Climbing on Tiny, Shaky Metal Pegs with No Safety Net." Yes, I am a wuss and declined the invitation.) It's a 75 meter climb to the top, no safety nets, nothing to keep you from plummeting to your death should your hand or foot slip (and again, no wavers signed.) Another amazing sight was the Greens Pool in William Bay National Park. It was my first swim in the Southern Ocean. It was freezing, but I gave into pressure and grabbed the once in a lifetime experience of numbing my extremities in the Southern Ocean.
Day four was great (I didn't forget day 3, but it wasn't that great or picturesque enough to mention). We spent most of the day at Cape Le Grand National Park, which seems to be the sight for most of the world screen saver pictures of white sandy beaches and clear oceans. We first visited Frenchman's Peak to climb to the top for views of the surrounding areas. This Frenchman must have been spider man or something. It was more than a 45 degree angle, and seeing as I have been blessed with the walking grace of my mother (Love you Mom!), I knew climbing up might not be a problem, but climbing down would probably end in me rolling for half a mile and breaking some very important bones. I stopped about halfway, when it became nearly vertical, but had the company of a sensible German girl who also decided that gravity was not on her side and chatted with me while we waited for our groups to go up for the complete view. That afternoon, we visited Hellfire Bay. This is the most amazing beach I have ever seen. The white sand squeaks beneath your feet and the water is clear to the bottom. It was still cold, but there was no way I could resist swimming.
Day five consisted mostly of our drive back with intermittent stops. The highlight was definitely Wave Rock, an amazing rock feature created by erosion (that erosion can do some amazing stuff.) We had to of course take the obligatory surfing picture with the whole group. The trip wouldn't have been complete.
We learned, despite the fact that I was at first convinced it was another "drop bear"-like conspiracy among Aussies to make tourists look idiotic, that emus will come towards you if you lie on the ground and pump your legs like a bicycle. Apparently they have crappy eyesight and think that it might be another emu that has fallen over and needs their help. We witnessed this actually working when Marcus, our Swedish boy, agreed to get out of the bus and bicycle on the ground. The emus, that were initially walking away from us, suddenly seemed curious and came closer to inspect.
We learned a few new card games from Chris from the UK, most of which we were completely sick of by day 5. I realized that the card game 'asshole' varies depending on the country you're playing in, and that perhaps America has the most refined and detailed set of rules (we played what we called "international rules," leaving out lots of critical stuff to make it easier on new comers). These cards were also disgusting by day 5. I washed my hands after every game.
It was our tour guide's third time on this trip, and first time doing it alone. We got lost or at least didn't know where to go next probably no less than 12 times during the trip, and the organization of the trip could have been improved. Needless to say to those who know me well, this was a little annoying to me, but I did my best not to care and to sit back a relax, even as he shuffled through maps, called for directions, and took us on a 20 minute ride in quest for petrol, touring every gas station in the area, only to end up at the very first gas station we stopped at in the first place.
We had a wreck about 10 minutes outside of Perth. Our guide hit a car with our trailer. I felt the tremor and knew something had happened. There was hardly any damage to the trailer, but we took the car's front bumper clean off!
Overall, it was a good week, and I felt I mostly got my money's worth. I got to see lots of places I wouldn't have any other way, and despite the fact I might have picked a different tour guide had I had the chance, I had a good time with the people on the tour and learned a lot. I am back in Perth now with the Shreeves again for the next few days. I will be leaving Monday for my tour to Exmouth, and will probably not have another blog update until I get to Broome on Saturday night (sorry Kim!) I am coming down to the last month of my trip, which blows my mind. I am still enjoying traveling, but I have to say that I really am missing people that I am not used to going 2 months without seeing. I guess it's a good thing to have such close relationships with people that I miss them greatly when I go a while without them. It will be a relief to see those people again. But, I simply do not know how I am going to adjust from having no schedule to working 8 hours a day again. Can't we check one more time a make sure I don't have some wealthy great, great uncle somewhere who has left me millions in his will and wishes me to use his wealth to fulfill my dreams of traveling the globe?