01.01.2013 - 12.01.2013 35 °C
Epilogue: Seattle to Perth, Western Australia
1 – 12 January 2013
A slight trauma and the last stretch
A lovely Christmas was had in Seattle with my family and then it was time to head back to my home in Perth, Western Australia.
When I had finished my stint as a peace corp volunteer as a biology and English teacher in a high school in Sabah, East Malaysia, some friends of mine talked me into coming to Australia – a visit I was hesitant to make based on my rather poor opinion of the expats I had met in Kota Kinabalu. But with a bit of cajoling and nowhere else to go, I decided to make the visit.
Once in Australia, I found I actually liked Australia and Australians very much as they are so much more outgoing and laid back than Americans. I had no trouble understanding the accent, but did get into strife a few times using American terms that didn’t quite have the same meaning here in Australia. And I overdosed on Peter’s Have a Heart ice cream bars which cost an astounding 20ȼ.
I initially lived in Brisbane, Queensland and as time kept me on its treadmill, I eventually ended up living and working in Perth, Western Australia. So fast forward and I decided what better opportunity to hop overland from Sydney to Perth by train?
The only pragmatic way to get across the Pacific Ocean from Seattle was to fly: this is what I opted to do but with an overnight stopover in Honolulu so that I could do a wee bit of surfing and lounging at Waikiki. I decided that I was again going to try and stay in hostels (called budget accommodation at this end of the world), so I booked into the Waikiki Beach Resort (which turned out to be an abuse of the term “resort”) but which was located conveniently close to the Waikiki area of Honolulu. As I left Seattle with an extra box full of stuff which really overloaded my arms and as there are no lockers or baggage storage facilities available at the Honolulu airport due to security, I decided to take a taxi to my accommodation rather than the adequate transport provided by the local bus. You have to stand in line until you are allocated a taxi and amusingly, I was allocated a stretch limo. After the cramped seat on the plane, it was quite luxurious stretching out in the seat in the far back end of the limo yodelling to the driver. It was, however, a bit disconcerting being dropped off in front of my accommodation in such an extravagant vehicle as the vehicle did not match my abodings. The resort was an old apartment block converted into budget accommodation and I shared a very tiny two rooms that included a small kitchenette with eight people and all their gear. It was hot, crowded, cramped and messy. The plus was that it took me less than five minutes to be in the water.
There are a number of train routes that get you from the east coast to the west coast of Australia. As I wanted to town hop, I opted not to take the “Indian Pacific” from Sydney to Perth which takes four days and three nights if you travel straight through. Rather, I decided break up my trip so my plan was to take the interstate NSW Trainlink from Sydney to Melbourne, hop on the Great Southern Rail from Melbourne to Adelaide and then continue on the Indian Pacific a few days later from Adelaide to Perth via Kalgoorlie.
After staying with friends for a couple of days in Sydney, it was time to board the NSW Trainlink from the Sydney Central Station to Geelong, a port town about 75 km to the southwest of Melbourne. The plan was to visit some friends in Lorne, located some 66 km to the south of Geelong along the Great Ocean Road. The train trip from Melbourne to Geelong is somewhat unremarkable: one passes industrial sites, residential areas, open fields, cows and gum trees. The air conditioned train was a moving shell through a blanket of really hot air outside. However, a great time was to be had in Lorne as it is a place loaded with cafés, ritzy shops for browsing, places for hiking, freezing water for those immune to cold water and generally a good place to shoot the breeze with friends.
And then……it happened. I missed my connecting train to Adelaide on the Great Southern Rail. By this point, I had travelled some 14,627 km by train, 1,317 km by bus and 19,008 km by plane (give or take a few hundred kilometres). I had survived the train system in Russia with their Moscow based timetables and Cyrillic alphabet, queuing and buying tickets in unknown systems, having a couple of heart palpitation moments, but I never, ever did I even came close to missing a train, bus or plane…..and I manage to do this in the easiest of countries to travel in and in my native language.
I put full blame on my friends Graeme and Sue with whom I was staying. I was too relaxed and was totally enjoying myself, and as a result totally and utterly lost a day. I was visiting during the Serbian orthodox Christmas, so the house was full of family, food, wine, laughter and trying to talk above the din. The next morning I sauntered to a café and thought myself so clever to remember to confirm my booking for the next day. Ghastly shock describes my reaction during the course of my conversation with the operator:
Me: Hello. I would like to confirm my booking on the train going from Melbourne to Adelaide tomorrow.
Bearer of bad news: Your train leaves in 10 minutes. Are you able to make it to the station?
Me: Umm, no. My train is tomorrow.
Bearer of bad news: Nope. Wrong. Try again. You just lost $95 bucks.
It was on to plan B. Luckily I did have some leeway as I was spending a couple of days in Adelaide which is not that far from Melbourne. Greyhound Australia came to the rescue in the form of an overnight bus that got me to Adelaide via Ballarat at 0600 in the next morning. The ticket cost me a total of $127 (including $2 for green dollar carbon “travel product” to offset my travel emissions) so I was not too much out of pocket. I was staying at the very functional The Wright Lodge which did not open until 0900 so I just made myself comfortable on a bench in the park across the street with a few street people also taking advantage of the park facilities.
I like Adelaide. I always feel like I have stepped back in time - a time when a crowd would gather on the hill next to the ACG, watching the cricket for free and listening to the game on their tinnies. It’s quiet, has beautiful parks including the botanical garden, picturesque pathways by the river, some great examples of federation architecture and a pretty good chocolate shop. It’s an easy city to wander around in, the only negative being that it was bloody hot the days I was there.
I joined the entourage of tourists travelling from Adelaide to Perth on the Indian Pacific, the difference being that I was traveling the Red Service with reclining dayniter seats, while the majority (if not all) of the couples in the waiting room were travelling in berths. Spacious and comfortable are not adjectives I would use to describe the seat. I didn’t travel in a berth because they are very expensive, especially if you are travelling on your own, and anyway, they were all sold out. So I sat in my seat for three days and two nights with my travel pillow and jacket, with the occasional visit to the loo or the train café for food, and a two hour stopover in Kalgoorlie in the middle of the night. It was barely tolerable and the man sitting next to me that snored despite my jabbing him did not help.
The train between Adelaide and Perth passes through the vast, flat and virtually treeless Nullarbor Plain. It’s a landscape that I associate with Australia and one that I love.
I arrived at the East Perth Terminal at 0900 and my very good friend Alison was waiting to pick me up. It was 40oC already and it turned out to be one of the hottest summers on record in Australia. Only a few months before, I was living in a country where a temperature of -40oC was not unusual.
By the time I arrived in Perth, I had virtually circumnavigated the earth in a wee spiral covering a more or less 35,000 km over a five month period, starting from where I left but ending further south. I was home.