Many small towns have swimming pools. Although some prefer to call them Aquatic Centers these days. But both terms are a bit high-falutin for Weyauwega. So instead, we have a swim lake.
It’s basically the same thing as a swimming pool, in that it has locker rooms, showers, life guards, and a concession stand, and is surrounded by tall chain-link fences to keep children and the inebriated from wandering in and drowning. But instead of a rectangular structure with vertical walls, a concrete floor, and a bright blue vinyl liner, Weyauwega’s swimming hole is an irregularly shaped structure with gently sloping sides, a gravel floor, and a concrete shoreline. In short, it’s exactly like a real lake but without the mucky bottom and the fishy smell.
In other words, it’s nothing like a real lake. But I’m new here, and I’m not one to make waves. Even at the pool. Or the swim lake.
The Weyauwega Swim Lake (or Swimming Lake, depending on which sign you’re reading) is located within Weyauwega Community Park.
Established in 1972 (according to the sign at the High Street entrance) the park sits on 12 acres, and is host to ball fields, tennis courts, picnic tables, covered pavilions, a playground, and a handful of buildings operated by various local civic organizations.
A few blocks from Community Park is Mill Street Park. Located at the intersection of Mill and Sumner streets, Mill Street Park features a half-court basketball area, a swing set, and a couple of benches. Across the street and kitty-corner from Mill Street Park are the Sumner Street tennis courts. The park and the tennis courts flank the Weyauwega Public Library which is located at the same intersection, which means one can exercise both one’s body and one’s mind in one trip if one were so inclined.
Incidentally, kitty-corner from the library at the intersection of Mill and Sumner Streets is ThedaCare Physicians Weyauwega. Which means, if you happen to skin your knees jumping off the swing at its forward apex, or pull a hammy while chasing your opponent’s killer serve, or slice your finger open while paging through a copy of Weyauwega Remembers, medical treatment is not far away. Unless it happens after 5pm or on a weekend, in which case you’re probably going to die.
I’m kidding. We have paramedics in town who will happily patch you up if you can’t walk it off. Just limp or crawl four blocks north and take a right onto Wisconsin Street. The firehouse will be down two blocks on the left.
If you reach to the post office you’ve gone too far.
In that case, just turn around and go back a half block. The firehouse will now be on your right.
A few blocks north of Mill Street Park sits Petersen Park.
Straddling both Mill Street and the Waupaca River, Petersen Park boasts a small playground, a few picnic areas, and a boat launch. Here you will also find the famous rye mill silo.
Of course, famous is a relative term. They don’t know about it as far away as, say, China, Europe, or possibly even Milwaukee. It’s famous because it’s where the old Weyauwega rye mill used to operate and because you can’t look up Weyauwega on Google without a picture of the structure coming up in your search results. Built in 1855, according the Weyauwega Chamber of Commerce (www.weyauwegachamber.com/) the mill was the largest in the world at the time and was considered a state of the art facility in the field of flour manufacturing.
A few steps away from the rye mill silo puts you on the Yellowstone Trail.
Established on May 23 of 1912 (with thanks to Wikipedia) the Yellowstone Trail was the “first transcontinental automobile highway through the upper tier of states in the United States.” As you can see by the map below the trail will take you all the way from Plymouth, Massachusetts to Seattle, Washington by way of Yellowstone National Park.
Of course, you’d have to walk many a mile to get from Petersen Park to Yellowstone National Park. I suppose you’ll just have to pace yourself.
And speaking of pace: in Weyauwega the pace is fairly slow. Not slow as in ploddingly or painfully slow. More like slow as in smooth, or gentle. Like a light breeze, or trickling stream. Here, the words hustle and bustle are rarely used, and then only to refer to 1970’s disco-era dances and 1870’s ladies’ undergarments.
If you think I’m kidding, check out the city’s very own slogan, which appears at the bottom of their very own homepage.
“A TASTE FOR LIFE OUT OF THE FAST LANE”
That sorta says it all, I think.
And it may not be for everyone, but it suits the Jarhead and me just fine.
Having arrived at the Perth airport with a few hours to kill before our flight home, we decided to hit the business class lounge and see how it stacked up against the one in Abu Dhabi. To be fair, having never set foot inside any business class lounge prior to this trip, I can hardly claim to be an authority on business class anything. Then again, if America can allow a man with no experience in government, no knowledge or respect for the constitution, and a toddler’s grasp of justice to sign legislation, set foreign policy and have access to the nuclear launch codes, it most certainly can allow this novice traveler to critique an airport lounge.
It didn’t take me or my more experienced travel companion long to declare a winner in what the folks at Hanna-Barbera would call the business class lounge-o-lympics. By many miles and nearly every possible dimension of comparison Abu Dhabi was the winner hands down. Size. Comfort. Amenities. Ambience. Cuisine. You name it. Without a doubt, the Abu Dhabi facility reigns supreme over its Aussie counterpart.
The most obvious difference was in the food, which was neither as abundant nor as varied or fresh as that in Abu Dhabi. Whereas the lounge Abu Dhabi offered an array of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Asian main dishes and accompaniments—plus soups, salads, pastries, fruits, vegetables, and beverages—arranged like fine fabrics or gems on stone-topped islands at each end of the room, the lounge in Perth offered just one entrée and two or three side dishes that sat in metal crocks and which were crammed (along with a couple plates of sweets that were so lacking in personality that you wondered if their signature ingredient was Zoloft) onto an 8-foot section of countertop that looked like a hand-me-down from a minimum security prison or a maximum security middle school cafeteria.
Second, whereas the décor in the business class lounge in Abu Dhabi was elegant, modern and stylish, the décor at the lounge in Perth was a sterile, dated, and stale. To put it another way, if the lounge in Abu Dhabi was a set piece from a modern-day remake of the sci-fi suspense thriller “Gattaca”, then the lounge in Perth was a set piece from the 1976 sci-fi hallucination “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” I kept expecting David Bowie to wander by and say something dramatic and cryptic. (Yes. I know the man is dead, but I prefer to believe he’s simply gone to another realm and can come back again whenever he wants. Like, say, Inauguration Day 2021.)
Unfortunately, what the Perth lounge lacked in style, it failed to make up for in comfort. The chairs were so narrow they cut into the sides of your legs, which makes it difficult to sit for any length of time and sort of defeats the purpose of a lounge if you ask me. But what do I know. As I may have mentioned, I’m not exactly a seasoned traveler.
One area in which the Perth lounge prevailed over Abu Dhabi was the restroom. Like other aspects of the lounge itself, the restroom at Perth was fairly ho-hum. Old, plain, outdated, etc. In short, it was aesthetically unspectacular, especially compared to the restroom in Abu Dhabi, which, again, was sleek, shiny, and ultramodern. It was also huge, and featured multiple stalls, multiple basins, and real cloth towels. None of this paper towel business. It was quite wonderful—provided you don’t like privacy. Provided you’re not freaked out by the attendant who wanders up and down the row of stalls and sweeping, wiping, and/or scrubbing every square inch of marble and porcelain after each squat, flush and wash and who continues to sweep, wipe and/or scrub those same surfaces at thirty second intervals in between.
No thanks. The restroom in the lounge at Perth may not be sleek, shiny, or modern, but it is clean and, more importantly, small. As in single. Solo. Solitary. As in one sink, one toilet, one mirror. And the person who maintains that little room with one sink, one toilet, and one mirror does not stand or pace around outside the door waiting to clean up after you. Call me old fashioned but I prefer to do my business alone, thank you, and will choose the older, tired, and outdated fixtures over an audience armed with ammonia any day of the week.
Another area in which Perth excelled was in the availability of wine. (Even if you are not an oenophile yourself, you had to expect that to be a category. Unless you’re new to this column, in which case, you’d do well to check out the archive and bring yourself up to speed.) Although its food menu may have been limited and boring, the wine in Perth’s business class lounge was not only free but also abundant and accessible. As in right there out in the open, just sitting in these cool little buckets that were built right into the counter. All a body had to do was walk over, choose a glass—clean or dirty, your choice—and pour.
This was not the case in Abu Dhabi. They may have had gourmet level cuisine laying all about the place but good luck getting some wine to go with it. Because I saw not one bottle of wine near the food, nor any near the beverage bar. What I did see was a sleek, shiny ultramodern bar stocked with sleek, shiny, ultramodern bottles and staffed by a handful of crisply dressed and well-coifed attendants who moved and spoke with such intensity that I found them intimidating. We may call them bartenders where I come from, but these people didn’t seem to be tending the bar as much as guarding it.
Which prompted many questions: Why are these people so serious? Are they armed? Dangerous? If I ask for wine, will they even give it to me? And if I ask them to let me see the bottle, will they demand to know why? What if they don’t like my answer? Will they judge me? What if they’re not really bartenders but trained assassins posing as bartenders as part of some ultra-secret undercover operation? What if they realize I’ve figured it out? Will they erase me?
So having wine in Abu Dhabi was clearly way more hassle than it was worth. Score one for Perth!
Anyway, by the time I had completed my assessment—the balance of which I will spare you, a least for now—the Jarhead had already exited vacation mode and was tapping maniacally away on the buttons of his work phone. I amused myself by working my way through the equivalent of an entire bottle of shiraz. I may not have drunk that much if there had been more than one glass left in the bottle when I poured my first, but by the time I got back to my seat someone had already replaced the empty bottle with a full one, so I felt somewhat obliged to keep drinking.
And from there I basically drank my way home. Even subtracting the four-hour alcohol-free layover in Abu Dhabi, it was the longest, highest, fastest, and most expensive booze cruise of our lives, and best of all, we lived to tell the tale!
Day Eight in Australia was intensely bittersweet. Although I missed the kids and the cats back home, I was already missing all the places we had been (yes—even the place with the bees!) and all the places we would not have a chance to see (Wave Rock, Pinnacles, to name just two) before heading back the States. So, although I was eager to get out and see things, I was also having trouble mustering the gumption to get out and do something because I knew I wouldn’t have time to do it all.
Although I knew going into this that we wouldn’t have time to see everything there was to see in Western Australia, it had now become clear that if there had been a contest to see who could log the most miles and see the most sites, the Jarhead and I would have come in dead last in both categories. Unless you count seeing the inside of your eyelids, that is. In which case the Jarhead would have won hands down.
From a sight-seeing perspective you really can’t cover much ground in just eight days—especially when you’re a chickenshit insomniac with a sleepy spouse and temperamental hair. Unless you’re talking about some small but historically significant town—which you can probably cover in under 8 hours—you’ve got to give yourself more time.
Exactly how much time?
That’s a great question. And one for which I have no answer. Because we lived in Naples (Italy, that is; not Florida) for three years and barely scratched the surface of what there was to see and do there, never mind the rest of the country. The same is true in the case of Arizona, Virginia, California, and Pennsylvania, where we lived for a few years each and found the time to explore but a fraction of what we would have like to have seen. But of course, we could travel to every one of those places two or three more times for the price it would cost us to go back to Australia, which is why I there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of us getting back that way again.
I know. Boo hoo. I only got to visit Australia once.
But I don’t want your pity. I’m just explaining why, as the trip crept to its inevitable close, I was already missing everything that I knew I would never get to see. And so, with only one day left, we had some pretty tough but incredibly familiar choices to make: Where should we go? What should we do? And more importantly, what should we eat?
With our rental car due back in less than six hours we knew we wouldn’t be going far. And since literally everyone we had spoken to about it—both prior to and during our trip—had urged us to see Kings Park and Botanical Gardens—the Jarhead suggested we go there. It was right on the way to the airport from our hotel, he reasoned, and as far as a retired marine is concerned, that’s about as close to kismet as you’re going to get.
I will now share with you some fun facts about Kings Park and Botanical Gardens, which I got from the fun folks at Experience Perth as well as a few regular facts, just for the fun of it.
Fun Fact: Kings Park is one of the largest urban parks in the world.
Regular Fact: At 1,003 acres, it surpasses New York’s Central Park, which comprises 843 acres. This compares to our home in Wisconsin, which sits on 36.8 billion acres, if you count the entire surface of the earth.
Fun Fact: Kings Park and Botanical Gardens hosts 6 million visitors every year.
Regular Fact: Assuming those 6 million people do NOT all come to the park on the same day but at a rate somewhere close to a mathematical average, that means 16,000 people visit Kings Park each day. Even if only 1 out of every 4 of them is driving a car or truck, that means that there are 4,000 motorized vehicles arriving at the park on any given day, which explains why we had so bloody much trouble finding a place to park.
Fun Fact: Kings Park showcases an outstanding collection of Western Australian flora and is a popular place for picnics, walks, and ceremonial events.
Regular Fact: Kings Park attracts an astounding volume of tourists to its outstanding collection of Western Australian flora, which makes finding a place to picnic, walk, or park nearly an impossibility. Tourists who are disappointed by this can console themselves by visiting the DNA Tower, where they’ll find a seemingly endless supply of fun scientific facts but, surprisingly, absolutely no competition for parking.
In addition to these fun facts, the fun folks at Experience Perth offer visitors to their site an impressive list of all the great things that visitors to Kings Park can do there.
ADMIRE the panoramic views of treetops, the city skyline and the Swan River.
LEARN about the diversity of WA’s flora
DISCOVER our rich history along the Lotterywest Federation Walkway.
SEE the mighty boab tree, a 750 year old specimen from the Kimberley region of WA.
CHILDREN will love the many play areas around Kings Park.
VISIT the Rio Tinto Naturescape – a place for children to connect with the environment
ENJOY the range of summer events and festivities
ENJOY a Free Guided Walk with the Kings Park Guides
ENJOY the flora and fauna including wildflowers and over 70 bird species
INDULGE in a spot of retail therapy at the Aspects of Kings Park gallery shop
CLIMB all 101 steps of the spiraling DNA Tower for spectacular views
As I said, it’s a pretty impressive list. However, to that list I would add the following:
RELAX in the comfort of your climate controlled rental car as you drive around for hours in search of a parking space.
PRAY that if/when you DO find a parking space that it won’t be so far from the entrance to the botanical gardens that you’ll need to change clothes when you get inside because yours have gone out of style.
REMEMBER to pack plenty of food, water, and sunscreen to protect you from starvation, dehydration, and third degree sunburn while making your way to the botanical gardens.
CONSIDER bringing a flashlight along so that you can find your way back to your vehicle since it will probably be dark by then.
TRY to arrive before the other 15,998 visitors get there. Before dawn would be best. Or maybe even the night before. Just definitely do NOT arrive at or after breakfast time.
With that in mind, I’d like to take a moment to share a few photos from our adventures at Kings Park. Just for fun, see if you can guess how many of the 16 items from the preceding lists we were able to accomplish that day…
For those of you playing along at home, the correct answer is 2!
Yep. After completing item #11 of the activities suggested by Experience Perth, and item #1 of the 5 that I added to the mix, we decided we could survive with just having seen the bird’s-eye view of the park from atop the DNA Tower. You only live once, as they say, and we were determined not to spend what time we had left in Perth/on Earth fighting throngs of other tourists.
So we hopped in the car, drove to the airport, dropped off our rental car, checked our bags, cleared security, and hit the business class lounge to see how it compared to the business class lounge in Abu Dhabi, and to determine how much free wine I could consume before someone other than the Jarhead decided I’d had enough.
Hey, a gal’s gotta have a goal. Some are just loftier than others.
Morning came much too early for me on Tuesday. Having slept far less than the Jarhead had over the last several days I gratefully would have slept for several hours after he had gotten out of bed. And while I haven’t sat down to do the math, I suspect I could have slept until noon and not even come close to tying—much less breaking—his record for the total number of hours spent sleeping by an American in Australia. Still, I would have given it a shot if Mr. Sunshine hadn’t opened the blinds and turned on the news after hopping out of the shower and brewing up a mini pot of coffee.
That option discarded, I dragged myself out of bed and left him to plan our day once again. He hadn’t done a bad job the day before, after all, and I didn’t have the brainpower to contribute to a discussion even if we had tried to have one at that point. That plus the fact that I’m in charge of nearly every aspect of life back in North America made it easy for me to let him be the boss Down Under.
Once I had showered my energy level out of the negative numbers and caffeine-d my way into the positives, I offered to let him be in charge for the rest of our stay, and every time we visit Australia in the future. He liked that idea so much—as evidenced by the fact that he nodded absently without looking up from the map—that I then suggested that we divvy up the various potential travel destinations in advance so we will know who will be responsible for organizing the itineraries and activities for all our future vacations. He paid as much attention to that as my previous suggestion, which is why he also gets to plan any vacation we take to Europe, Asia, Africa or South America, and I’m responsible for planning all our trips to Antarctica.
I know. How magnanimous of me, right?
That decided, we packed up and headed over to Salted Board. We had been there so many times by that point that I wondered briefly if we should go somewhere else for once. We didn’t want Chrissy to think we were crazy stalkers, after all, and it probably wouldn’t have hurt us to try something new. But then again, why risk it? So, another delicious breakfast later, we were on our way to Kalamunda National Park.
I’ll say this for the Aussies: they take their parks, wildlife, and conservation in general very seriously. And yet, in typical Aussie fashion, they seem to take them seriously without seeming to take them seriously. It seems almost assumed—a given—if you will, that the environment is a priority, and that the people who live on Earth are its stewards. Unlike in the US where you have some very passionate people striving to understand, appreciate, and protect the environment from those who want to rape, pillage, plunder and profit from it (while the rest of us are left wondering what to do and whether it will even matter so we almost nothing) in Australia conservation appears to be a way of life. Full stop. No drama. No debate. Just effing do it.
And the evidence was everywhere—at least in Western Australia. From the signs guiding you (if not literally inviting you) to all the local natural attractions, to the ubiquitous and well-maintained trash bins that were almost too clean and attractive to be trash bins, to the utter lack of litter or neglect anywhere, the place was seriously pristine.
And yet, as tidy as everything looked, it never seemed deliberate, groomed, or staged. There were no mower lines on the grass, or anything to indicate that the trees and other greenery had been purposefully planted, preened, or perfected.
One might be tempted to conclude that this was evidence of a lack of visitors, but this was clearly not the case. In literally every park, preserve, beach and boardwalk we visited there were people walking, hiking, biking, picnicking, backpacking, and snacking. And yet, there was no trash. Anywhere. No wayward candy wrappers. No discarded bottles, cans, or plastic bags.
Nor was anything broken or missing. In the restrooms, all the stalls were clean, and everything in them—including the door locks and latches—were fully functional. The trash bins were never overflowing and there was always tissue in the dispensers. It was like a neat freak’s version of paradise. Or Oceania’s version of Canada.
Which was mostly awesome but also a bit disconcerting in a Wrinkle in Time meets Stepford Wives meets Supernatural kind of way. Because we never saw even one groundskeeper, nor any grounds-keeping equipment. And yet we KNEW they had to have groundskeepers, who in turn had to have equipment. Somebody is emptying the trash cans and filling the tissue dispensers, after all, and even the most conscientious traveler drops a tissue now and then. And I doubt very much that the visitors are cleaning up after themselves—even the Canadians.
Which made me wonder if perhaps the Department of Parks and Wildlife was deploying nature ninjas to swoop in and sweep up when no one is looking. Or maybe they show up after dark decked out in optoelectronic devices to mow the lawns and collect the trash by starlight. The more likely explanation, I suppose, is that the park employees get up a little bit earlier than the average bear, and take care of business while the rest of us are having coffee. But doesn’t that sound boring? (More likely, yes. But definitely less interesting.)
Anyway, although we’d been in the car for over thirty minutes, our excursion officially began when we arrived at the Perth Hills Visitor Centre and Zig Zag Cultural Centre in the town of Kalamunda. Located between the Kalamunda History Village and the Kalamunda library (in what their website proudly calls the ‘Kalamunda Cultural Precinct’) the center offers a wealth of information relating to the historical, cultural, and recreational options to be found in and around Kalamunda and Kalamunda National Park.
After studying the map and our hiking options, we got back in the car and headed for the hills. Okay, one hill. Gooseberry Hill Recreation Reserve to be perfectly honest. Here we would find a trail that would suit not only our age and fitness level, but also our footwear. Turns out some of the trails are a bit jagged and loose, and since we weren’t properly equipped for anything too treacherous we had to settle for one of the easier routes.
By the time we parked the car at the entrance to the reserve (which, oddly enough, was at the terminus of Hill Street right smack in the suburbs of Perth) I was pretty fired up. I had brought my walking poles and brand-new hiking boots, and my almost brand-new knees. I had plenty of water, eyewear, and sun protection, and although we weren’t exactly about to hike the Aussie equivalent of Appalachian Trail, I was fully psyched. I had survived the hike the day before without encountering one snake, spider, or crocodile, so I knew it could be done. I was feeling bold. Brave. Confident. I was going to hike that trail and I was going to crush it!
And then I got out of the car.
Instantly, I heard it: the sound of bees buzzing all around me. And I mean literally ALL around me. You couldn’t see even one single bee. But you could hear them—thousands of them.
To be honest, I’m not allergic to bees. And I’m not really afraid of bees as much as I am terrified of them. No lie. As a kid, the sound of a bee (or wasp or hornet or anything resembling a bee—including but not limited to dragonflies, horseflies, and houseflies) would leave me quivering in terror. Outwardly, I would either freeze and nearly wet my pants, or run around in nonconcentric circles with my arms, legs, and head flailing in all directions like I was having a seizure, while internally screaming and hyperventilating at the same time.
Like other disabilities, this crippling fear made outdoor activities a bit more challenging for me, but thanks to my dad and his abject lack of patience and sympathy, I managed to overcome it. Mostly. I no longer freeze or have a seizure when a bee buzzes by me in the garden or my phone vibrates on the table. Inside I still scream a little and sometimes need to be reminded to breathe, but I don’t have a full-blown panic attack. Usually.
But there at the entrance to the preserve, I admit I had a mild relapse. The buzzing was so loud, and it seemed to grow louder with every passing second. It was like some of the bees had noticed my arrival, and word was spreading among the other bees that I was there. And they were all plotting how they would attack, and in what order, at what speed, and in which formation.
Standing there, just steps away from the edge of a suburban cul-de-sac with my new Keens and fancy hiking poles, I felt like a dog faced with the choice of staying with the kid who found me when I was lost and the kid I knew and loved until fate separated us. Do I conquer my fears and crush that trail full of bees, or do I go back to the car a failure, foiled by her apiphobia?
It didn’t help that I had just read an article that said tourists are more likely to die from a bee sting in Australia than from a spider bite or snakebite. Because bees are more numerous and less afraid of people than snakes and spiders, tourists are more likely to encounter a bee than they are a snake or a spider, and because tourists typically haven’t been exposed to Australian bees, they are more sensitive to their venom than native Australians are. Fan-tabulous.
Knowing that the Jarhead would not take that hike without me, it came down to this: would I rather make his day and die by a thousand bee stings or would I rather ruin his day and live to tell the tale? The more I thought about it, the harder the decision got. Especially since the Jarhead was not standing next to me awaiting the outcome of my internal struggle. Instead, he was striding eagerly toward the entrance to the trail. With or without me. In other words, my choice wasn’t whether to hike and die or leave and live; it was to either hike and die with him, or sit in the car and die alone.
How’s that for a plot twist?
Well I wasn’t about to sit in the car waiting for the Jarhead to come back from a bushwalk, I’ll tell you that much. It could take hours for me to find someone to drive me back to the hotel if he didn’t come back, and years to find someone who likes my cooking enough to put up with my crap. Nuts to that.
So, bees or no bees, I was staying with the Jarhead.
Which is fortunate, because just a few yards down the trail—as the Jarhead was checking the treetops for koalas and I was distracting myself from the bees by scanning the ground for the shier, less dangerous snakes—I looked up momentarily and came nearly face to face with two kangaroos. They were both adults this time and instead of lounging around in the shade ignoring us, they were both standing upright looking directly at me. Not wanting to alarm them or the Jarhead, I stayed perfectly still and whispered out of the side of my mouth. “Psst! Kangaroos at your four o’clock.” Slowly, he lowered his head and turned to his right. “Oh, wow,” he whispered back. They’re pretty close.”
They were definitely close, but they were also behind a fairly tall and sturdy fence. Still, we didn’t want to spook them, so I left my phone in my back pocket and let the Jarhead take all the pictures and a few short videos. Which is why I don’t have any evidence of this encounter to offer you today. It’s all on one of his many SD cards, which got all mixed together during our recent move. But if and when we find them, I’ll be sure to share them.
Meanwhile, content yourself with the knowledge that we both survived the hike through the reserve and went on to enjoy a walk on the beach and a nice leisurely dinner back at the hotel.
Another day down and only one more to go. I was already beginning to miss Australia.
Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. It’s been eight weeks since my last post.
By now some of you may have concluded that I had abandoned the column—if not writing altogether. You may also be feeling a bit betrayed after making the emotional investment in this adventure only to be left hanging barely halfway through the trip. For that, I apologize.
What’s far more likely—and far less self-aggrandizing to consider—is that you’re gotten used the long gaps between posts and have decided not to sweat it. Rather, you’re content to read them as they come regardless of how often, or you’ve patiently decided to wait until the entire series has been published and then read them all at once. For that, I thank you.
Or maybe you’ve thrown me over for a younger, prettier, or more dedicated columnist who won’t take you for granted. I can’t say I’d blame you. At least we won’t have to argue over who gets the kids.
But if it’s all the same to you, I’d like a chance to explain. Because I do have an excuse—a 57-year-old, 1200 square foot excuse, to be exact, that started gobbling up all of our time, money, and patience since well before went to Australia. In fact, you would have been reading about that 57-year-old excuse by now had the renovation gone as quickly and smoothly as the Jarhead and I expected. Then again, if the renovation had gone as quickly and smoothly as we had expected, there probably wouldn’t have been much to write about. So, silver linings and all that.
Anyway…day six in Australia fell on a Monday, in case you’ve lost track. We would have gone to Salted Board for breakfast again but they didn’t open for nearly an hour, so we hopped in the car and headed up the coast toward Joondalup.
Of course, at the time I didn’t KNOW we were going to Joondalup. All I knew was that we were heading north instead of south. To bottom line it, since we hadn’t decided before getting dressed that morning what we were going to do with our day and—more importantly—since we didn’t want to sit around our hotel room for hours pondering the issue like we tend to do with meals, the Jarhead had the taken the bull by the horns, so to speak, and after a quick look at the map assembled what, in his view, would serve as a suitable itinerary.
This was, in my view, a double-edged sword. On the one hand, by allowing the Jarhead to plan the day’s adventure, I was spared the task of applying my deplorably limited knowledge of Western Australia to cobble together an itinerary that would both thrill and amaze him without scaring me to death in the process. (Or, put another way, I was spared the task of applying my deplorably limited knowledge of Western Australia to cobble together an itinerary the would both interest and amuse me without boring him to death in the process.) On the other hand, allowing the Jarhead to plan the day’s adventure meant I was left with no idea of what expect and therefore no way to prepare myself.
Naturally he saw this aspect of the plan—call it the element of surprise, for lack of a better term—as part of the fun. A bonus, if you will, for allowing him to lovingly lift the burden of building an agenda from my delicate shoulders. In short: a dangerous precedent.
Still, what did I have to lose? Apart from my life, a couple of limbs, and whatever was in my purse. Then again, you only go around once, and if I was going to die, become an amputee, or have my money and/or identity stolen, at least I’d have a great story to tell. Or rather my family would.
Our first stop on our daring adventure was a visit to this coastal beach.
Actually, MY first stop was here.
But eventually, I caught up to the Jarhead here:
Here is some more of what we saw:
We didn’t get in the water. The Jarhead said since it wasn’t quite summer that it would be too cold. (I ask you: who’s the chicken s**t now?)
From there we drove a little further north, by which time we had gotten hungry, so we stopped off for brekkie at a place called the Canteen. I ordered eggs Benedict with salmon, kale, and beets, which was delicious.
My companion ordered pancakes with blue berries and freshly whipped cream.
Sadly, nobody told the Jarhead that they don’t sweeten their whipped cream in Australia, so he didn’t find out until AFTER he had already smeared it all over his pancakes and rendered them “unfit for human consumption.” He ate them anyway—after scraping off every last drop of the whipped cream (along with most of the blueberries and powdered sugar) but it wasn’t much of a breakfast. I felt bad for him and offered to share my meal, but since it included kale, salmon, and soft-poached eggs, well, you can probably draw your own conclusion.
Our third stop was at the Koala Boardwalk at Yanchep National Park! Yes—koalas! I have always wanted to see a live koala. Like Mitch Hedberg, I would much like to apprehend one and maybe feed it a leaf. And here was my chance!
Some fun facts about koalas: First, they’re nocturnal animals, so they sleep all day. Second, they’re shy little bastards, so they sleep way up in the trees. So high up, in fact, that you can barely see them without the aid of a telescope.
Another fun fact: if you want to hold a koala, you need to go to a petting zoo rather than the Koala Boardwalk at Yanchep National Park.
So rather than fulfill my lifelong dream of holding a koala, I had to content myself by looking at them from the ground. Or, more accurately, by taking a photo with my phone on superzoom and then looking at the picture in my gallery afterward.
After we’d seen enough sleeping koalas, we went to another part of the park to see what other wildlife we could find. If I were to write a blog just about this portion of our journey, it would be called “Road Trippin’ Down Under: Birds, birds, and more birds. Because, man, there were birds. The ruby breasted cockatoos and black swans (pictured with their babies) are the only ones I knew by name, but there were many, many more.
And while we were marveling at all the birds, suddenly, we noticed this mama kangaroo and her joey just sitting in the shade.
After visiting with the kangaroos, we headed down one of the many trails in the preserve. It took us through the park and into a variety of animal habitats, including wetlands, dry scrub bush, and some forested areas.
All of the signs we had seen so far had warned hikers to keep to the path and watch for snakes. This proved a challenge because the path was barely 14 inches wide and much of it was overhung by plants, so you just had to walk and not think about what might be lurking nearby.
At one point, we met up with an old chap who, we concluded later, either had been lost alone in the bush for quite some time and had not seen or spoken to anyone in days, or was delirious from some sort of snake or spider bite. Either that or he’d had a little too much caffeine that morning and couldn’t find his off switch. For roughly thirty minutes the Jarhead and I stood there politely as he showed us every last one of the photos in his camera and educated us on the rudiments of Aussie zoology, snake avoidance, and venom survival.
Some more fun facts: You are much more likely to be bitten by a snake whilst trying to kill a snake than you are if you leave the bloody things alone. Also, you are more likely to be bitten by a snake whilst trying to kill a snake than you are if you just never go to Australia. Just saying.
Anyway, in sum, the old guy’s best advice was this: snakes prefer to avoid humans if they can so you should make plenty of noise as you move about the bush. That way, the snakes will hear you coming and slither away before you even get near them. The down side to this strategy, of course, is that all the cute, cuddly, nonvenomous critters will also hear you coming and disappear before you can see them, thereby preventing you from apprehending one or feeding it a leaf.
All that fresh air and walking (not to mention all that standing around looking at every photo one man had taken over the course of his entire lifetime) had us pretty worn out, so we headed back to the hotel to for an early dinner. It had been a great day and I was looking forward to an equally great evening.
Then, at 6pm, the Jarhead decided to take a nap. To be fair, “decided” might be too strong of a word since there was nothing deliberate or conscious about it. In fact, one might say it was an entirely unconscious decision, and if called to testify in court, I would swear he was much more of a victim than a perpetrator.
Assuming the man just needed to recharge his batteries, I let him sleep and did some writing—clearly not on this blog or you would not have had to wait nearly a year to read it. When he still wasn’t awake four hours later, I checked his pulse to make sure he was still alive, then went to bed as well.
I know. Don’t bother trying to look surprised. You won’t be fooling anyone.
If you’ve spent the last several weeks glued to your computer or smart phone neglecting your family, your friends, and perhaps your hygiene while anxiously waiting for the next post, please accept my apologies. When we started planning this trip last year I never imagined I would still be writing about it nearly seven months after we got back.
And while I can express my intense regret over stringing you along, I have little to offer in terms of an excuse. It’s not as if I’ve been too busy to sit down and crank out a few hundred words and phrases here and there. Truth be told, I can do that with my eyes closed and with one hand tied behind my back, although it tends to take a little longer that way.
But that’s not why it’s taken so long this time. Although if it will make the experience of reading this column a more entertaining read for you, feel free to imagine me sitting blindfolded and restrained in a sturdy wooden chair and pecking away at my keyboard with a pencil, pen, or screwdriver clamped between my teeth. Whatever floats your boat, as they say.
Anyway, since we had enjoyed our breakfast at the Salted Board so much on Saturday, we decided to go there for breakfast again on Sunday. The eggs Benedict with salmon and smashed avocado was just as good then as it had been the first time only better since this time I decided to enjoy the delicious crusty, toasted whole grain bread that it came with instead of giving it to the Jarhead. Yum!
From there we decided to visit Fremantle Prison, which was just a short walk up the road. The facility, originally called the Convict Establishment—or the Establishment—was built by the British in the 1850’s to house British convicts who were shipped to Australia to do hard labor. In the 1880’s the colonial government of Western Australia took it over and begin using it to house local convicts.
For more information, you can visit the website at http://fremantleprison.com.au/. Before you click on the link, you may want to adjust the speakers on your device. The audio on the site includes background noises that, depending on your volume settings, may or may not cause you to jump out of your skin or cause your heart to skip a beat. If you clicked on the link before reading my warning statement, I apologize, and wish you a speedy recovery.
After touring the prison, we made our way back down to the main drag and headed for the Fremantle Markets (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fremantle_Markets.) Here we were treated briefly to a show by a local performer whose shtick included spinning plates on dowels and tricking innocent bystanders into sitting a box and wearing a helmet containing the dowels on which said plates were spinning.
Since we had come in at the tail end of the show, I can only assume the guy (pictured above in the black hat with burgundy pants and vest) had performed many other feats of wonder prior to our arrival. That and a lack of other forms of entertainment in the area are about the only ideas I can dream up to explain the size of the crowd that was present when we got there. Unless the dude was not just a juggler but also a hypnotist and he had them all transfixed. Or maybe they were all actors who had been promised bonuses if they could convincingly appear interested. Either way, with our path to the entrance to the markets essentially blocked, we were forced to wait until the show was over to make our way into the building. Once there, we took in all sorts of cool sights, to include kangaroo leather purses, totes, and belts, as well as locally made soaps, jewelry, clothing, artwork, knickknacks, tools, and ethnic foods.
Having been walking since breakfast, after meandering around the markets we decided it was time to rest and have a drink. With that in mind, we headed for a place called the Mexican Kitchen. Since the chairs were comfortable and we had a pretty good view of the main drag, we decided to have some dinner and a few adult beverages, and do some people watching.
Fremantle attracts tourists from all walks of life, and it really showed on that day. Couples, families, groups of adults, and groups of teenagers were among the folks that passed by us that evening, and they represented close to the full spectrum in terms of nationality, ethnicity, religion, and lifestyle. There happened to be a car show going on that weekend as well, so in addition to watching all the people around us, we got to gawk at a nearly steady stream of classic cars that ran the gamut from muscle cars and hot rods to antique and luxury models.
Should anyone you know ever wonder aloud what Mexican food is like in Australia, you can tell them this: Mexican food in Australia is basically the same as Mexican food in the United States, only without the beans. That seemed weird to me since literally every Mexican meal I have seen or eaten in my 50-odd years on Earth has been accompanied by beans, but there you have it.
I guess it wasn’t that big of a deal that the beans were missing since neither of us noticed it until we got our prints back from the Walgreens photo center a few weeks later. I wish I could claim not to know how or why we didn’t miss the beans, but since I was already on my third margarita when the plates arrived, there isn’t a lot of mystery there to unravel. With three ‘rita’s under my belt and several hours having passed since our last meal, I probably wouldn’t have noticed if my entire meal had been missing. Or if they’d served me melamine models of taquitos instead of real ones. Or, well, you get the picture.
One thing I would have expected to see in a city the size of Fremantle but had yet to find was evidence of poverty or homelessness. This seemed strange given that in literally every place I’ve been in the US I’ve seen folks on the street corner at stoplights or the entrance to Walmart asking for money or food. But at no point during our stay in Australia did we see anyone standing or sitting anywhere with a cup or a cardboard sign.
Oddly, at almost the exact moment the Jarhead and I were discussing the lack of panhandlers, one suddenly appeared. Only he didn’t look like a panhandler in that he was reasonably well groomed and dressed, and had no cup nor any sign. In fact, had he not sidled up to the table literally right next to ours and asked the three young women sitting there if they had any spare change, I would never have pegged him for a panhandler at all
Almost the second after the panhandler stepped away from their table—having received nothing for his efforts—a well-muscled man clad in black jeans, white tee shirt, and a black stocking cap (whom we later found out was some sort of undercover security officer) approached him. “You picked the wrong street for that, mate,” he said sternly, and the panhandler quickly strode off down the street.
“So it isn’t that they don’t HAVE panhandlers in Fremantle,” I observed afterward. “It’s that they wear camouflage and the city has a policy of containment.”
I’m not sure how to feel about that, but, again, there you have it. Do with it what you will.
Day Four of our vacation to Fremantle started about the same as Day Three had, but slightly later. Despite having absolutely nowhere to go and not even a hint of a schedule to keep or an agenda to pursue, we were out of bed, in the shower, and out the door like Amy Schumer ditching a hookup in the movie, Trainwreck.
It seemed insane—if not a little sad—for two healthy, red-blooded vacationing American’s to be up and around at 5am on a Saturday morning in Australia, but there we were. And we couldn’t even blame the time zone issue at this point since we’d been there for nearly 3 days—and it was 7pm back home.
Still, we tried—I mean we really, really tried—to relax and take it easy but it was a futile effort. There are only so many things one can do in a hotel room, after all—and only so many times one fifty-year-old couple can do them, if you catch my drift.
Even the television offered little in terms of distraction. Although the Jarhead normally can (a) lapse into and (b) sustain a TV coma—faster, longer, and with less effort than literally any man, woman or child on the face of planet earth—his superpowers are apparently weaker outside of North America. Seriously.
It doesn’t happen every day, but I and a handful of other witnesses have seen this man sit through twelve straight cycles of the Local on the Eights and three consecutive airings of Dune, and four solid hours of The Big Bang Theory—without blinking. And just when you’re ready to call someone with an electroencephalogram to check for evidence of brain activity, he’ll suddenly, casually, and quite coherently remark on some subtle difference between the most recent forecast and the one that had been issued for our area precisely one hour and eight minutes earlier—or preemptively blurt out Leonard Hofstadter’s response to one of Sheldon Cooper’s crazy complaints before Johnny Galecki can deliver the line himself. It’s uncanny.
But again, TV failed to hold the same attraction for him in Australia that it does in the States. My guess it has something to do with the language barrier.
I know. I know. The Aussies speak English just like we do. But DO they?
Sure, they speak many of the same words and use basically the same sentence structure that we do, but that accent of theirs can be tricky for people for whom language—and talking in general—doesn’t come easily. And this is the guy who spent three years in Naples and yet managed to learn enough Italian to request thirty liters of fuel from gas station attendants (trenta litri per favore) and to thank them afterwards (grazie.)
At any rate, the Jarhead wasn’t drawn to Australian TV like a moth to a flame as he is to American TV. Which was fine with me. Apart from a couple of programs I watch when I’m working out (which isn’t exactly often, obviously, or I wouldn’t be two seasons behind everyone else in the free world with Orange is the New Black) I mainly use our TV for background noise. And when the Jarhead is in a TV coma, he may as well be in a regular coma because he acknowledges and remembers very little—sort of like Jeff Sessions, except when the Jarhead doesn’t answer it’s because he hasn’t heard you and not because he’s trying like hell not to incriminate himself.
And so, as we had before, we walked out of the hotel with no idea how we were going to spend our day. The options were limitless and I’ll admit to having been somewhat paralyzed by the plethora of choices.
The one and only thing I truly wanted to accomplish that day was to purchase a new curling iron. Scratch that. The only thing I truly NEEDED to accomplish that day was to purchase a new curling iron. It’s an important distinction because, although I needed a curling iron, I most definitely did not WANT to buy a new curling. What I WANTED was for MY curling iron to work just as it had when we left the states.
But that was not going to happen. Because although one can power an American curling iron by plugging it into a US/Australia adaptor and then plugging the adaptor into an Australian outlet, one can only plug said curling iron into a US/Australia adaptor and then plug it into an Australian outlet so many times and for so long before you overheat and fry the bloody thing.
So…I needed a new curling iron. We needed sunscreen, too—not because of any mishaps involving electricity, thank goodness. Fortunately, I had remembered to pack my industrial-sized claw clamps and, therefore, was fully prepared to weather this and just about any other hair emergency, or the Jarhead would have been forced to set off for breakfast on his own and then pick up a curling iron and sunscreen on his way back.
For a change, it didn’t take us long to decide where to eat that morning, and soon we were sipping coffee and chatting with a staffer named Christine at a place called Salted Board. Salted Board has a funky yet cozy atmosphere with a décor that blends rustic and industrial elements and features bold earth tones and black accents to create a modern vibe that looked so positively chic that I started taking notes and making plans to remodel my home (again.)
And the food looked just as awesome as the décor, as you can see from the photos below.
My ‘brekkie’ consisted of eggs Benedict, minus the bread, with salmon, smashed avocado, and a side of bacon. The Jarhead had sausage, ham, and eggs with crusty bread.
This was by far the best breakfast we had enjoyed so far. In fact, it was so good, that we ate breakfast there again on Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and each time it was just as good as the last.
After breakfast, we began our quest to find a new curling iron. I say ‘a’ new curling iron because I knew better than to become attached to something I did not plan to keep. I would be leaving Australia in four days, after all, and it would be of no use to me back in the states—that is, unless I wanted to pick up an Australia/US electrical adapter and see how long it would last plugged in to a US outlet.
Turns out it’s fairly hard to find a large barreled, ceramic coated, variable setting curling iron in Fremantle, Western Australia. In fact, the only place we found that even carried curling irons, was Target. Not one of the three other stores we were advised to check had them, which I suppose is why we paid twice as much for that one than I had paid for the one that had died.
In the hunt for the new curling iron, we got to take in some more of the local scenery, wandered through a market, visited a shopping mall, and bought a few souvenirs. We also found the public library, and got up close and personal with some colorful parrots as well as a woman in the park whom I suspect was not dealing with a full deck because she kept shouting and swearing at the air above the bench beside her.
Dinner that night included cocktails and hanging kebabs which you have to see to believe, so here is the evidence:
We had put it off eating as long as we could by walking around for a while before heading back to the hotel restaurant. Our goal, again, was to stay out as late as we could in the hope of finally resetting our body clocks to local time.
The effort was valiant but, like our attempt to stay in bed that morning, was ultimately futile. The loud music and lights around the area kept us from falling asleep at our table, this time, but all that fresh air, food, and drink had left us sedated.
Fortunately, there was only one short elevator ride between us and our bed. So upstairs and of to bed we went. We had made it to 11pm!
It came as no surprise when we awoke at 4am on Friday morning. Since we had gone to bed so early the night before, I would have been more surprised—and probably a bit concerned—if we had slept any later.
By now it was quite clear that we were taking the Forrest Gump approach to our vacation: When we were hungry, we ate. When we were tired, we slept. And when we had to go…you know. We went.
I knew we wouldn’t win any races or set any records at that pace, but neither would we suffer any stress or strain. With any luck, the reward for this outlook—so eloquently expressed by the Spanish as “que sera, sera” and by the Italians as “va bene”—would be the extension of our beauty, vitality, and longevity. And if not, at least I’d have plenty of material for future posts. (You’re welcome.)
And so, with little in terms of a plan other than to grab some coffee and a bite to eat and head south for the day, we hopped on the elevator and made our way down to the dining area to take advantage of the hotel’s breakfast buffet.
It looked pretty much like any other breakfast buffet we had seen with a few notable exceptions. The most obvious of these was the sheer variety of items, which included not only standard breakfast fare like bacon, eggs, sausage, ham, hot and cold cereals, pastries, pancakes, waffles, omelets, and fresh fruit, but also non-standard breakfast food like roasted tomatoes, hot beans, and mushrooms.
Among the more puzzling aspects of this buffet was the table of raw vegetables that were so fresh that they still had their skins and ends intact, and yet were so clean, colorful, and perfect that I assumed they were fake. In fact, I wasn’t until I saw one of our fellow guests eagerly gnawing on a giant carrot like Bugs Bunny that I realized they were not only real but tasty.
Another difference between this buffet and others was the presence of dogs. And I mean a LOT of dogs. All of them sitting or lying on the floor next to one table or another. Not barking. Not begging. Not running around. Just chilling and being dogs.
“What’s with all the dogs?” I asked as the Jarhead and I assembled our coffee, plates, and silverware at our table. “I counted at least nine dogs in his area alone.”
My companion shrugged. “At least they’re being quiet.”
I seconded that, realizing only then how quiet the place was. Although I have no empirical or statistical data to prove it, it was about the quietest breakfast experience I’d ever had. And quite possibly the most pleasant. Especially compared to certain buffets in the US—not saying which ones—where you can hardly carry on a conversation for all the screaming, crying, fighting and whining kids and their parents who are too busy shouting over them or into their cell phones to actually do something about it.
Compared to all that, this place was Valhalla.
And yet, odd. How could a room be literally teeming with people and yet almost totally quiet?
It must be the acoustics, I decided. Because, as I looked around the room, it was clear that people were moving their lips. You just couldn’t hear them.
Then I looked more closely, and realized that most of those people were also moving their hands. And their arms.
That’s when it dawned on me: these people are signing.
“No wonder it’s so quiet in here,” I said. “At least half of the people in here are hearing impaired.”
“Quite a few visually impaired folks around, too,” the Jarhead observed, indicating with a nod toward tables comprised of people with dogs and wearing dark glasses.
“What a coincidence,” I marveled aloud.
“Or is it?” the Jarhead asked with a chuckle.
“What do you mean?” I followed his gaze a sign on the doors at the rear of the dining room.
Turns out we were sitting in amidst a convention for professionals who work with or on behalf of people with hearing and visual impairments—many of whom are hearing or visually impaired themselves.
Boy, did I feel like an idiot—especially when I looked around again and found almost every single one of our breakfast companions wearing a t-shirt with the organization’s logo on it.
In my defense, the t-shirts came in about four different colors. And they were paired with bottoms of about every color, shape, and fabric under the sun, so it’s not as if the conventioneers were all dressed alike. Still. I felt pretty stupid.
Fortunately, no one was paying any attention to me so no one besides the Jarhead knew what an idiot I was. At least not until now.
Anyway, from there we popped back up to the room to grab a few things for the day’s trip south. We were almost to the elevator again when I realized something was missing.
By which I mean the custom fitted, nylon devices that I wear on the outer fingers of my arthritic left hand to keep them bent and out of the way. The very same items that keep me from collapsing in pain any time said digits come in contact with anything firmer than water, and without which I could barely function.
Thus began a frantic search for two tiny, light peach, infinity-shaped pieces of plastic, which I wear nearly 24/7 but usually remove before using the bathroom, putting on lotion, or doing the dishes. Since I hadn’t seen a kitchen in days, I reasoned, the only place I could have left them was on a stand next to a bed or next to a sink in a bathroom. That didn’t bode well considering I had slept in about five different beds and used over a dozen different restrooms in the last seven days. On the upside, the last place I remembered taking them off to apply lotion was in our room right there in lovely Fremantle, Australia—which meant I hadn’t left them back home, in Chicago, or in Abu Dhabi. And because I hadn’t left the hotel since the last time I took them off to use the bathroom that morning, I knew they had to be nearby.
Unfortunately, after turning our entire room inside out and upside down, the splints were still missing, so we decided to check the dining room. Although I didn’t remember washing any dishes, putting on lotion, or using the bathroom during breakfast, because the only place I’d been all morning–other than our room and the elevator–was the dining room, it seemed the only logical place to look.
A few minutes later, after checking our table (which had been cleared and was now unoccupied) and asking the hostess, the servers, and the cashier if anyone had turned in a set of small, light peach, infinity shaped pieces of plastic, I concluded that they’d been thrown away.
And so, with little else to do but get up close and personal with six garbage cans full of discarded food, drink, and god-only-knows-what-else (which was not going to happen in this lifetime, thanks very much. I had enough of that kind of fun thanks to all the happy hours I spent digging though the cafeteria trash in pursuit of my missing retainer back in middle school) we gave up the search and went on our slightly-less than merry way. At least they weren’t expensive.
Trying to hold on to that silver lining while clutching the seat and door handle of the rental car as we cruised down the highway that morning proved no harder than clutching the seat and door handle of any other vehicle on any other day of my life, and in time I forgot about my defeat. There was so much to see outside that car window that I even forgot to be scared every now and then.
The first place we stopped was at a oceanfront park, where we snapped a few photos and made a note to come back when it was warmer and less windy.
Continuing down the coast from there, we stopped in at Bell Park in the City of Rockingham.
Continuing down the shore past the park, we came to a little sailboat harbor and boardwalk.
Although the views were lovely, my enjoyment of them was hampered somewhat by the fact that I had developed an itch in the general vicinity of my cleavage, which was mercifully not constant but still fairly irksome, and which became progressively more annoying as time wore on. Not wanting to attract attention by addressing the situation out in the open, I had resolved to find a restroom or other appropriate setting in which to take action while discreetly adjusting my position and that of a certain article of clothing in the hope of maintaining my sanity.
At a certain point—and with no restroom in sight—I couldn’t stand it anymore. Although the itching itself hadn’t gotten any more intense, something—perspiration perhaps—had caused it to increase in frequency. By then I was roughly as curious as to the cause of the itch as I was annoyed by it, and convinced that knowing the cause was the key to making it go away.
With that in mind—and with the Jarhead having stopped off to buy a soda from by a local concessioner—I gave up and gave in. Expecting to find a bite, or a rash, or bits of sand or salt stuck to my skin, I pulled the neck of my shirt away from my body and looked down to find two small, light peach infinity-shaped plastic rings nestled between my—well, you know.
Suddenly, it all came rushing back to me: where I’d put them; when I’d put them there; even WHY I’d put them there.
I immediately started laughing, recalling a video I had once seen and shared with the Jarhead entitled “Titties are NOT Pockets.”
You can see it by clicking here:
I was still laughing when the Jarhead returned from the concession stand with his beverage. He looked at me as I held up my splints. “Where were they?” he asked with a chuckle.
I pointed toward my chest, and then he was laughing, too.
“Now, Billie,” he admonished. “You should know that titties are NOT pockets.”
From there we made our way back to the car. Along the way, I came across this bizarre sight:
I’m not going to tell you what it is. But feel free to take a guess and leave it as a comment. I’ll give you a couple of hints: They glow in the dark. And they are not pockets.
After leaving the park, we went for a short drive down the coast to admire the architecture and then stopped off to admire the beach and other sights—which included magpies, sand dunes, and about a hundred signs warning visitors to watch for snakes. Apparently, they were just waking up from hibernation and should be expected to be a bit cranky.
After speaking to a ranger, I also learned to watch out for other small animals that might be sitting in the grasses. It seems they will stay perfectly still to avoid detection when they sense a snake is nearby, so if you see one that’s not moving, you should assume a snake is not far away. Of course, they may also sit perfectly still just because you’re nearby, so you never know.
Eventually, we made it back to Fremantle. Not wanting to delay dinner an hour or more by debating what and where to eat, we simply went back to the Monk. This time we ordered burgers, which came with fried polenta. Although I had asked to forego the polenta in favor of a salad, the Jarhead decided to give it a try.
Recognizing right off the bat that we weren’t Aussies, the server, Trevor, asked our names and where we were from. No one had really expressed an interest in us up to that point, and it made a nice change.
Trevor didn’t look like any server we’d ever had—in Australia or anywhere else. With his close-cropped hair, his stern expression, the fitted shirt, and his compact but well-muscled physique, he looked more like Jason Statham in “The Mechanic” than someone whom you’d expect to bring you a burger–never mind the salad or fried polenta. Although to be fair, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the fitted shirt or his muscles had it not been for the fitted shirt and his muscles. (Pretty sure he didn’t get THOSE delivering plates of burgers and polenta—unless he carries a dozen or so plates at a time.)
As I expected, the Jarhead was not enamored with his choice of sides, and asked Trevor to take it away.
Eager to turn things around, Trevor offered to replace the fried polenta with something else.
“Like what?” the Jarhead asked doubtfully.
“How about a salad?”
The Jarhead was less than thrilled by this suggestion—and made no effort to conceal it. “No thanks,” he said.
“He’s not really a fan of salad,” I explained.
“Is that so?” Trevor asked me, before turning to the Jarhead. “What’s wrong with salad?”
It sounded like a challenge, but Trevor was clearly amused, so the Jarhead answered:
“Salad isn’t food,” he declared. “Salad is my food’s food.”
Trevor crossed his arms. “Is that right?”
The Jarhead nodded. “In fact, salad is not only my food’s food; it’s also what my food s***s on,” he clarified with no small amount of satisfaction.
He was being deliberately provocative, and that clearly made him feel better.
“I’m not sure I like you,” Trevor admitted before turning to me again. “Now Billie—she’s delightful—but you…I don’t know. You’re a bit of a pain in the ass.”
I thought I would die laughing.
“He’s really not,” I said, trying not to snort.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. And we’ve been married 31 years, so I would know. The man is just hangry.”
“Yeah. You know. When you get so hungry you’re angry?”
“Right.” Trevor nodded and turned back toward the Jarhead. “I guess I’ll have to take her word for it. Meanwhile, since you don’t want a salad, can I bring you anything else to replace the polenta?”
“How about another beer?’ he replied, smiling.
“You got it.”
That did the trick. Well, that and the big juicy bacon cheeseburger once it finally made its way into his stomach.
We followed that up with brief walk around an area of downtown we hadn’t seen before, and then headed back to our room.
For a change, we managed to stay up until 8pm that night! At that rate, I figured we stood a pretty good chance of acclimating to the new time zone just in time to head back home.
Despite having been up half the night, I was unable to stay in bed much past sunrise. Although I was physically tired enough to go back to sleep, mentally I was wide awake. Between the sunlight dancing on my eyelids, the sounds of the city waking up outside, and the knowledge that mere miles separated us from the beaches, the kangaroos, and all the other things we hoped to encounter in the coming days, I just couldn’t get my mind to shut back down.
The Jarhead, too, had woken up by then—as I discovered only after trying to get out of bed without disturbing him. Evidently he had been awake for a while, too, and had been killing time checking his email and playing solitaire on his phone while waiting for me to wake up. Little had he known that I was lying there with my eyes closed desperately hoping I would fall back to sleep while trying my damnedest not to move a muscle and—for a change—not wake him.
It was all pretty ridiculous, but not exactly out of character for either of us.
At any rate, once we each realized that the other was awake, we got up, got some coffee, and got moving. Although we had nothing specific to do that day and no prescribed time frame in which to do it, we both wanted to see as much of Australia as we could over the seven days we would be there, and that required some thought.
I know, I know. Most people would have decided how to spend a week in Australia before they actually get to Australia. And most of them would have arrived there knowing not only what they’re going to do, but also when, and what it was going to cost. And thanks to websites like yelp and tripadvisor.com, they also might have had a pretty good idea of how much they would enjoy it.
But all of that takes effort, and we don’t like to work that hard—at least not in advance. Plus, we change our minds—a lot. So we like to keep our options open. And if some of the options no longer exist by the time we become aware of them, or if they happen to disappear while we’re locked in debate or gripped by indecision, well then we figure it just wasn’t meant to be.
So instead of heading out of our hotel armed with train schedules, museum hours, and tour tickets, we left with only our keys, our wallets, our sunglasses, and a thirst for adventure. By that I mean a middle-aged, moderately-active, Midwesterner thirst for adventure, just to be clear.
The first order of business involved a walk around the immediate area to see what fun there was to be had locally. We soon had a set of options to include the familiar and the not so familiar.
The familiar included several retail establishments, like those seen in the photos below. The first shows the exterior of a place called Hungry Jacks, which sounded to our American ears like a pancake or mashed potato shop, but is actually an Aussie version of Burger King. Like it’s US incarnation, it offers burgers, fries, shakes and chicken tenders in ketchup and mustard colored wrappers, only without the funky paper crowns and the creepy plastic faced mascot.
The second is an image of the front door of the local Target which bears little resemblance to the Target stores in the US (as we learned a few days later after the Jarhead realized he’d forgotten to pack undershirts.) Sure, they both sell clothing, shoes, and household goods, but the Target in downtown Fremantle differs from Target stores in the US in several ways.
For example, the layout is nothing like any US Target I had ever seen. It looked much more like an K-Mart circa 1976 than a Target circa 2016, with racks and racks of merchandise arranged in departments, but with no real theme or color scheme, and none of the gi-normous posters of happy, photogenic children, trend-setting teens, whole-grain hipsters and hot-moms hanging from the rafters like you’d find in its US counterparts.
It’s like the land that marketing forgot, I remember thinking as I followed the Jarhead to the men’s department that day. And yet I couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, it didn’t have that Target feel—you know the one that makes you want to buy their stuff so you, too, can be a happy, photogenic, trend-setter, hipster and/or hot-mom. On the other hand, it didn’t have that Target feel—in other words, I didn’t feel I had to buy their stuff or be a photogenic, trend-setter, hipster or hot-mom, and that made me happy. (Chew on that for a while. Or not. Your choice. After all, it’s a free country—for now.)
In case you missed it, the signage on the Aussie store is also different from the signage on US stores. Whereas the word ‘target’ is spelled out in red capital letters in the US, the word appears in black and only the first letter capitalized in Fremantle. There is also a period after the word ‘target’ on the Fremantle store that doesn’t appear after the word ‘target’ on US stores. I wondered about these differences but not enough to bother looking into it. If you happen to know the explanation for either (or both) of these idiosyncrasies, feel free to share it as a comment on this post.
Meanwhile, other familiar sites were to be seen on or near the main drag of Fremantle. One of these was a 7-11, which stood across the street from Target and was exactly the same as any 7-11 I’d seen on the outside, but as a Wawa and Kwik Trip devotee, I didn’t bother to check the inside.
Another familiar site was the Cold Rock Ice Creamery, which looked identical to a Cold Stone Creamery in the US but—as we discovered a few days later, did not measure up in terms of flavor or consistency. In fact, it was exactly what I imagine ice cream would have been like in Soviet-era Russia or Poland. Okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad. But it was darn close.
What downtown Fremantle lacked in terms of marketing and ice cream, it more than made up for in it other ways—including but not limited to the variety, authenticity, style, and even value of its cuisine. There were so many restaurants, it was hard to choose which ones to sample, but every single one we tried was awesome. And two of them were awesome enough to warrant an encore.
The first of these was the Monk Craft Brewery & Kitchen, where we had an early dinner after wandering around for hours trying to decide how to decide where to have dinner. We eventually settled on Monk for no other reason than it was a beautiful day and we could eat there alfresco.
There were several other places that offered an alfresco option, but their tables were all crammed close together under awnings, whereas the Monk had several tables with big wide seats that would allow us to sit right out under the sun, which is where we wanted to be right then. So Monk it was.
It was a dinner like we’d never had before, and probably never will again. The Jarhead had what they called a Tackle Box—which included fried squid and fried white bait with crispy onion and chilli-lime aioli. I had the lamb ribettes with rosemary and garlic grilled lemon and a Greek salad. Fizzy water (for me) and a beer sampler (for him) completed our meal.
From there, we headed to a nearby liquor store where we bought enough beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages to induce me to wonder if the Jarhead planned to ever leave the room again. That question was answered when he asked the liquor store clerk for some ideas on what there was to see and do while we were in the area.
What follows is a song I wrote about this experience, and some of what happened the next day. I don’t have a title for this little ditty, but please enjoy it to the tune of the theme song (or thong, if you’ve been drinking, like me) from The Beverly Hillbillies.
Now this is a story ‘bout a bloke named Ted
A liquor store clerk with a curly brown head
He said Margaret River was the place ya wanna be
So we paid for our booze and planned to head southerly (south, that is)
Well the next day we spoke to the head valet
The sheila said, no—dontcha go that-away.
She said Margaret River is infested with crocs
And all the nearby beaches are filled with shocks (great whites, that is)
Now, I don’t know if that dude had a grudge against us or tourists in general, but I for one was not amused. Considering how nice had been to him—and now much money we had spent at his shop that day, we did not deserve to be sent on an excursion that had a better than average chance of leading to our demise.
Of course, we had no idea that his advice had a better than average chance of leading to our demise when we got back to our hotel that afternoon. We hadn’t spoken to the valet yet, and since we were too tired/lazy to pop open the laptop and do some research our own, we would remain blissfully unaware of our brush with death for several more hours.
So instead of learning more about Margaret River—or prospective alternatives to going to Margaret River—we popped by the front desk to ask for an extension cord (which they promised to deliver post haste) and headed up to our room.
I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but we were tucked in (with the CPAP securely attached to an industrial size extension cord that run under the headboard and over to WIGCBAPTTRTB my side of the bed) and asleep by 6pm, thereby securing the title of the Most Boring Couple to Visit the Continent of Australia in the History of International Travel.
Four hours and several rounds of Word Hero after the Jarhead had hit the hay I, too, was finally ready for bed. Having metabolized more than my share of sugar, caffeine, and wine—not to mention cortisol and adrenaline—over the past two days, it may be more accurate to say I was ready to crash—and hard.
And so, as quietly as I could and using my phone for a flashlight, I performed my evening ablutions, retrieved my CPAP from its case, and started to set it up. It’s not a complicated process but neither is it easy to do quietly—especially in the dark. And it’s not something I normally have to do myself when we travel. In fact, because it often involves moving one or more pieces of furniture or light fixtures—especially in older hotels—the Jarhead usually sets it up the minute we get to our room.
I can hear some of you now saying awwww and what a sweetheart—if not out loud then inside your head. But let’s not kid ourselves: the Jarhead’s dedication to helping me establish and maintain an open airway at night is as much for his own benefit as for mine. For if he doesn’t make sure upon our arrival that there is in fact a surface on which to position the machine as well as a source of electricity to power it, my ability to sleep and/or sleep quietly will be greatly impaired, which means HIS ability to sleep will be greatly impaired. And nobody wants that—least of all the Jarhead.
I should point out the alternative, which is that I suffocate in my sleep. That, too, might impair the Jarhead’s his ability to sleep—especially as he waits with fingers crossed for the results of the autopsy. And nobody wants that except—just kidding!
Most often, his advance efforts prove unnecessary, as power options are found to be both ample and in close proximity to the sleeping area. Now and again, however, the situation will require a change of rooms or the acquisition of an extension cord, which are burdens best borne by the fully clothed (and preferably while the bags are still packed) or so I’m told. This type of scenario is such a rarity that I cannot recall when last it arose. Nevertheless, it apparently created sufficient havoc for the Jarhead as to warrant his near-obsessive approach to preventing it from happening again.
Despite the playful tone, the Jarhead’s interest in making sure I’m able to breathe (and, therefore, sleep) when we’re away from home is not something I take for granted. It has, however, left me perhaps a little spoiled since it allows me to focus on things like room décor, shower configuration, and word games over sleeping arrangements and outlet placement.
Which is probably why it took me until nearly 3am to realize there were no outlets near the bed.
Notice that I did not write “near my side of the bed.” I make this distinction because the Jarhead had fallen asleep on what is generally considered by all parties to this relationship to be MY side of the bed and, therefore, if there had been an outlet on that side of the bed it would have been useless to me anyway. Unless, of course, I had been willing to drape the cord across his sleeping form and risk having him accidentally unplug it—or worse, strangle himself with it—at some point during the night, which I was not.
But that was a moot point because the fact is there was no outlet near what is generally considered by all parties to this relationship to be my side of the bed or any other. In fact, the only outlets in our room besides those in the bathroom and those behind the TV, were located at the base of the outer wall andapproximately 10 feet as the crow flies from the head end of what is generally considered by all parties to this relationship to be the Jarhead’s side of the bed.
In other words, in order to survive my first night in Australia I had to get down on my hands and knees, crawl under the table, plug the cord into an adapter, plug the adapter in to the outlet, crawl out from under the table, place my CPAP on the table, drag the table as close to the bed as the CPAP cord would allow, put on my mask, and hope:
that the distance between my face and the machine did not exceed the length of the air hose (72 inches) and,
that I didn’t roll over at some point during the night and manage to pull the CPAP off the table and have it land with a fatal thud on the floor and,
that the Jarhead didn’t get up at some point in the night go to the bathroom, forget which side he’d woken up on, and try to climb in on WIGCBAPTTRTB his side of the bed, trip on the cord, hit his face on the table, and land with a fatal thud on the floor
Either way you look at it, it was not an ideal arrangement. Unfortunately, the only other option was to pull the bed closer to the wall on the other side of the room, which would have been almost impossible with the Jarhead already sleeping on top of it. And even if I had been able to move it by myself, I doubted I could have done so quietly or smoothly. In other words, I would have woken him up. Which totally defeated the purpose. After all, if I was going to wake him up anyway, I may as well do so gently and deliberately, and then ask HIM to move the bed for me.
To my sleep-deprived mind at 3am, that sounded much easier.
But still not ideal. Because even if I had succeeded in moving the bed without waking the man of my dreams, he may still have gotten up at some point in the night to use the bathroom, tried to climb back in bed, which was now on the other side of the room, and landed with a fatal thud on the floor.
With that option sounding no better than the other, and finding no viable alternative, I strapped on my mask, put my head to the pillow, and tried to fall asleep.
And sleep I did. Until precisely 4:43am when the sunlight came streaming through the south facing window and patio door of our room.
That was a bit of a bummer—until I remembered that we were in Australia and on vacation.