January 2010


We have just returned from a wonderful vacation in Australia, so naturally thoughts of travel are on my mind. Travel is for Pam and I a precious privilege, and one that we do not take lightly. We are fortunate to be able to see so many new places, and meet so many new people.

But no matter where in the world we go, there is always one person that we are bound meet: ourselves. I read a story a long time ago that has stuck with me for many years. A simple story that illustrates this simple truth. It goes like this:

In a place far away there lived a wise old man at the edge of a city. Early one morning a traveler approached who asked him what the people who lived in his city were like. The old man responded with a question: “What are the people like where you come from?”

“The people where I come from are greedy and mean, boring and arrogant. Whenever two of us get together it usually ends in a quarrel. That is why I left.” The man shook his head and sighed: “What bad luck you are having, for I’m afraid you will find people here much the same way.”

Later in the day the old man greeted another traveler who asked the same question: “What are the people like in your city?” The old man replied as before, “What are the people like where you come from?”

“Oh, the people where I come from are wonderful. They are generous and energetic, kind and understanding. Whenever two or three of us get together, the joy we feel at being in each other’s presence is multiplied and overflows into laughter and sometimes music and dance.” The old man replied, “What good fortune awaits you, for here you will find that people are much the same way.”

May your travels this year take you to places filled with people who are ‘generous and energetic, kind and understanding,’ for then you will be where you should be.

Sleeping in a bed felt good, and having access to the internet in the lobby before anyone was awake was a bonus. Breakfast for me was all fruit, something that I had sorely missed while we travelled through the parched outback of Oz. Then it was off on our bicycles again, this time to explore the park behind the hotel, where we found a little cafe overlooking the park and stopped for coffee.

Then we ventured into the city itself. Perth is one of the oldest towns in Australia, and it has done a fine job of preserving its historic buildings and incorporating them into a modern streetscape. Several blocks of the core are blocked to traffic, although service vehicles have access through a system of metal posts that can be retracted into the pavement and are activated by a computer console on one of the posts. Many of the stores were closed for New Year’s which limited traffic and gave us easier and safer access to the city.

Perth is truly a lovely town, well laid out, with bus and rail lines all interconnected, wide boulevards showing off its clean and tidy buildings, and plenty of trees for shade. There are also the most playful sculptures scattered throughout its streets, a bit like what you find in Basel. But after several hours of this it was time to head back to the hotel to pack for home. We decided to take the camping chairs back to KL with us, but souvenirs were not on our list of priorities for this trip, so packing was pretty easy. We crashed at 7 pm and woke reluctantly at 2 am for our flight.

Perth’s airport is pretty small, but we were surprised by how many people there were at that hour. Air Asia was up to its usual efficient best, and we were airborne right on time, and back in KL by noon. Wish I could say that we were happy to be home, but that is the problem with great vacations: you hate them to end! Thanks for tagging along on our journey. I have uploaded the pictures that were meant to accompany these posts, and Pam will load the Flickr bar with the rest when she gets the time. Now it is back to our regular lives, which incidentally are pretty great at the worst of times, and a new year to plan and pray for.

This morning it was clean-out-the-camper day, and we did our usual thorough job with basins of warm sudsy water for the inside and a further wipe down on the outside for good measure. The reward for all this work was that we avoided a cleaning charge when we returned the van. Considering we put on 4,700 kilometres in our two weeks of travel, some of it on the hard-packed red dust that passes for roads in many parts of the country, that was no mean accomplishment.

We caught a cab from the rental place to our hotel, and were pleasantly surprised by how nice it was, and how well situated, right down by the water beside a lovely little park. We also found out that the hotel had guest bicycles, much to our delight. We quickly dumped our stuff in a small, but pleasant room and borrowed a couple of bikes to explore the city. Bike paths line Perth, and we were able to ride through the park and down to the pier for a coffee and a lovely view of the harbour. From there we were able to catch a ferry across the harbour for three bucks. On the other side we continued to cycle down the path to the golf course, where we crossed the bridge and cycled back into a stiff wind to our hotel.

Perth is a beautiful city, with great views of the harbour from many places around town, lots of parks, and bike paths everywhere. The air is so clean and dry after the cloudy haze of KL. That dryness comes at a price, however. We learned that Perth had not had a single drop of rain for the entire month of December. The tapwater here, as in every place we have visited in Australia, is so chlorinated it is virtually undrinkable. We had supper at the hotel and watched the firework celebrations in Sydney on television. That was about all we could manage for New Year’s. Hope yours was great. We are exhausted!

We asked our neighbours in the campsite last night about the bars across the front of most vehicles we see in Oz. They explained that they were used to protect the front of their vehicles from being damaged by hitting the kangaroos that stray out onto the roads at night. They call them ‘roobars.’ Although we tourists see the kangaroos as exotic and sweet, the locals view them as a virtually uncontrollable pest. We haven’t seen that many live ones, but dead ones litter the sides of the roads over here the way that racoons do in south-west Ontario in the spring.

We finished our drive north again to Perth through some pretty dry wheat country, stopping for tea in the picturesque little town of York. We intended to come into Perth through Toodyay, but the road was closed due to a major fire in the area that had already destroyed twenty homes. Fire and the lack of water are a constant backdrop in this arid country, and really impact the way they see the environment in Oz. They recognize that it is fragile, and take pretty good care of it. We have been impressed with the cleanliness of the countryside and the abundance of parks and nature preserves, all well-managed and cared for.

We toured the vineyards of the Swan valley and had a picnic supper in park down by the river in Guildwood. After a lengthy and circuitous drive through the north end of the city we did manage to find Scarborough Beach, too late to see the sun descend into the ocean, but not too late to admire the view and say goodbye to the fabulous Australian coastline. There are countries in the world with longer coastlines – Canada, for one – but none that have such almost endless and fantastic beaches.

We had passed a self-serve carwash on the way to the beach, and returned to give the van a good hose down before we turned it in tomorrow. The camper was a wise choice for this trip, allowing us to see almost all that we had wanted to see, at our own pace, and with a good supply of creature comforts. Given the cost of accommodation in Oz, the camper made sense, some sites being as cheap as $18 for the night, and most of them around $25 to $30. Even a cheap hotel room is four times that.

Back in our site we went online to find that Steve’s Mom – who turned 90 this past year – has had a fall and been admitted to hospital with a broken hip. We are uncertain what the prognosis is at the moment, but that is certainly not happy news to hear as the year draws to a close. However, knowing my Mom, that will not be the end of her story. She has been a fighter her whole life, and I expect she will soon be scolding both nurses and doctors with her imperious manner, bless her. At least I hope so.

This morning I was up before the dawn and after stretching for a bit went out in what I hoped would be a quiet exit from the van so as not to wake Pam. It was still twenty minutes shy of five after all. Unfortunately the keys fell out of my pants’ pocket as I dressed. She turned over and sighed, but I don’t think she actually woke; just one of those ‘what is he up to now?’ sighs that no longer require consciousness at our age.

The beach was gorgeous at that hour. There was a fellow fishing with his son, but no one else around. There’s nothing quite like doing Tai Chi facing the Southern Ocean watching the sun come up over the headlands. It may be the same old routine I’ve been doing for years, but the view made all the difference.

I had a nice shower and gently woke Pam around six. It rained for about an hour so we had a leisurely cup of coffee or two and just read and chatted for a while. I managed to upload some blogs to our site, but the wifi wasn’t reliable enough to get the pictures up. After the rain stopped we packed up and left the site. It was a good thing we got an early start because by eight thirty when we left the campsite there was no water at all, not even enough to rinse our coffee cups. The later risers will not be pleased!

Albany was only five minutes down the road, and beyond that lay Flinders’ Peninsula, our destination for the morning. This is as far south as you can get in Western Australia, and there were some absolutely fantastic views to be seen. At the Gap we saw the ocean just pummel its way up a narrow channel, while the Bridge had been completely eroded away underneath while maintaining a giant arch of granite. At the Blowholes we listened to the waves pound straight upward through a narrow chute that exploded in sound right at our feet. Apparently on really stormy days the water will shoot up some 30 meters through this chute! All along the coast there rock outcroppings and beaches all pounded by the same magnificent swells. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

For lunch we drove around to Frenchman’s Bay and had a picnic in the van. We would have liked to linger longer but we had 600 clicks to cover back to Perth, and we wanted to get some of it behind us that afternoon. So after a wee kip we hit the road again and drove through the uninspiring Stirling Range on our way. The countryside was rolling wheatfields and sheep but we began to despair of finding a decent campsite before we rolled into Wagin just shortly after five. The campsite was not picturesque, but it was conveniently located and like all the sites we have stayed in, invariably well-equipped and clean. Our fellow campers were chatty and happy to share the only grill. One more site, just outside Perth, is just 250 kilometres away.

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