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We’re at Learmonth airport. It’s a military base, so photography is prohibited. Not that there is anything you’d want to photograph, like a Big Prawn! Today has been marked by discovering our rear right tyre was completely flat, as we left the caravan park, Dan leaving a towel on the roof after a snorkel, so it’s blown off somewhere, finding the fish & chip shop closed so eating the most nauseating Chinese in a remote location we’ve ever eaten. I’m glad we’re heading home. 

Yesterday’s whale shark snorkelling tour reminded me of what I’d conveniently forgot about our trip to the Gálapagos three years ago: I get seasick. The water outside the reef was a little choppy. That, combined with a tight snorkel on my head, strapping in the stinger suit around my ears so water would rush in and out whispering like Voldemort, and the choppy waves rising up and down across my visual field as I tried to keep up behind the casually but very fast swimming whale… I got nauseated very fast. When there deckhand came up to rescue me, treading water and falling behind the group, the fumes from the motor fuel and splash of salt water into my mouth overcame the tight grip my esophageal sphincter were holding my Weetbix, milk and fresh cut strawberries down: I retched, then I hurled. Twice. 

The relief of chundering up my chewed wheat flake breakfast after four hours of non digestion was outweighed by more sea water splashing into my mouth, the choppy waves swirling bits of sick around and back at my face and more hurling. 

On the plus side, I swam with a whale shark who did not care or notice. 

I called it quits after my second swim and second hurl. I passed out from exhaustion on the boat, waking up at lunch time feeling super better and I ate three sandwiches to make up for lost breakfast. 

I had a tension headache by dinner time and Daniel kindly massaged the knot that had cemented most of my right trapezius after dinner, as we watched Kitty Flanagan on ABC back at the caravan park. 

This morning we had originally planned to drive 90 min south, to Coral Bay, but we both needed a sleep in. Turned out we couldn’t have just left as we had a very flat tyre; our neighbour asked Dan, “Need help with your tyre?” when we gave them our leftover groceries at check out. 

We drove around the cape to Lakeside beach where Dan snorkelled, in nothing but speedos and flippers. I stayed on the beach as there was another sign warning of irikanji and everybody else was wearing stinger suits. I did not want to die. Instead I was bit by March flies. I got suncream in my eye and, added to my contacts, resulted in me rubbing both eyes, my left swelled up itchy and watering. I don’t like the beach. I was glad when we left. 

I drove back North around past the VLF antennae, the lighthouse, and a convoy of white 4WD heading the other way. Somehow Dan always ends up driving and I play Candy Crush. I’m Level 740 now. It’s so addictive. I wish I had brought a book instead. I downloaded 50 Poirot stories by Agatha Christie onto my Kindle app but they get repetitive: somebody dies, a bunch of clues are told, Poirot solves the case using his “little grey cells”.  

We bought 3D hologram postcards. I’d better go find a postbox. 

Exmouth, Western Australia 

When we were living in Canada and travelling as much as we could we felt chagrined that we hadn’t sought the same experiences in our home country. This year we’re changing that: Karijini at Easter and snorkelling with whale sharks in Exmouth this weekend. 

We flew out from Perth, overcast and chilly and wet from rain and landed in pleasantly warm and brightly sunny weather. The plane was full. I picked at the “Moroccan lamb pizza” (fluffy white dough filled with spicy chewy meat chunks at the temperature of lava) and played a few levels of Candy Crush. Daniel read a book on his iPad. We chose to leave laptops at home and have a break from work for two days. I submitted proofs last night for my second fellowship project that has finally been accepted for publication – 4 years later. 

Exmouth is quite flat. Some expanses remind me of the Galapagos. The water is warm but signs warn of irikanji jellyfish. Dan snorkelled at Oyster Stacks and saw many animals. I wandered the rocks on shore, watched crabs scuttle under ledges and mildly twisted my ankle again. I’ve lost one tibiofibular ligament in Karijini: need to preserve the rest. 

We bought groceries at IGA and cooked our own dinner; we had booked a cabin at the RAC holiday park. We had freshly par-boiled broccoli, sugar snap peas, carrots and snapper pan fried in butter with garlic. 

Tomorrow we leave early to snorkel with whale sharks. 

Karijini Day 4 – Joffre Falls & Hamersley Falls

Day 4
Joffre Falls & Hamersley Falls
We had to checkout by 10:00, and did so at about 09:30.  We had planned to hike to nearby Joffre Lookout, then the Class 5 hike down to the water, expecting to take about 2 hours. It only took us an hour.  We didn’t make it to the bottom.  Although my ankle sprain had become a constant dull ache, no longer twinging with sharp pain at any slight rotation of the joint while weight-bearing, I didn’t want to slip.  Daniel was happy to return.  Ben & Dion watched longingly as the 2 girls that had followed us nimbly descended, but they didn’t follow.  We bought chicken and salad wraps from the Eco Retreat cafe and left.
Hamersely Falls was a good drive back out of the park, towards Tom Price, then North.  The dirt road was mildly flooded in some areas. Dion coached Daniel how to identify the shallow periphery of the giant puddles that covered entire sections of road: follow the tire tracks from the last vehicle, don’t drive too fast but don’t stop and head straight.  I imagined the worse: we were going to be immediately bogged, the light rain would become a thunderstorm, nobody would drive by and we’d miss our flights home, probably get bitten by a snake too.  I literally was on the edge of my seat. Ben stared out his window.  We didn’t get bogged.  We didn’t see any more snakes.
Dion drove us back to Paraburdoo, via Tom Price.  When Dion’s phone picked up signal and email notification banners began to display over the GPS on his phone we all disabled Airplane Mode on our phones and eagerly checked out emails and notifications.  Only 72 hours disconnected and we were plugged right back in.

Karajini 2017 – Day 3 Fortescue Falls, Fern Pool, Circular Pool

On our third day we drove straight to Fortescue Falls, there is a metal stairway down which Dan counted: 419 paces.  At the bottom we headed to the right, to Fern Pool.  On TripAdvisor the pictures of Fern Pool are amazing; it looks like a fern-lined cul-de-sac with blue-green water.  In reality it is just an ordinary looking pool lined mostly by rock, with a small water fall on one side.  The trees were filled with sleeping bats and a snake, curled up waiting to eat a bat.  We swam then hiked back along to Circular Pool.  The water was quite cold at Circular Pool, reminding me of Puerto Rico.  I ate a most of a tin of tuna.

The Snake at Fern Pool

We hiked back to Fern Pool after the boys ate their chicken wraps at Fortescue Falls.  They wanted one last swim.  I had changed back into my shorts and wasn’t hot enough to want to get wet again, so I waited on the shore.  Daniel swap back first.  The snake that had been up the tree was now in the rocks behind us, and had begun to descend.  We observed it slither first along the rocks, tentatively avoiding a spider’s web, then vertically down.  Two young women had spread a blanket out in front of the rocks and stood up when the snake began to head back to the water’s edge.  It headed right for their blanket, their shoes and backpack were invitingly open and I wondered how they’d rescue their belongings if the snake decided to rest inside.  It kept going, towards the reeds on the shore.  By the time Ben & Dion swam back across from the water fall I’d had by backpack and shoes on and was ready to sprint back along the track to safety – concern for my sprained ankle gone.  A family of Aussies, probably more used to non-venomous and mostly harmless snakes were more comfortable to walk right up to the snake, to see and photograph.  I stayed back with the Chinese family, the mother scolding her son in Cantonese to stay back, the fat father in white speedos waddling back and forth to the shore to take photos of the waterfall, and the snake.  The boys took forever to get changed and ready to head back.

 

 

 

Karijini 2017 – Day 2 Kalamina Gorge

We had decided on meeting for breakfast at 7 am; I had declared that I’d been up at 05:30 all week, still being a bit on Melbourne time zone and that we’d definitely be awake.  At 06:55 Daniel elbowed me awake.  I regretted having lost the chance at a sleep-in.  Dion was not pleased to be up so early.  Ben had been up for hours.

Breakfast at the Karijini Eco Retreat is a continental breakfast; you can upgrade to cooked options.  There was a large toaster on a table next to a basket containing a selection of sliced breads and another basket with cold croissants.  I dropped in two slices of white bread for me and cut a croissant in half for Daniel, and wandered off to collect butter, Vegemite and a plate.  When I returned a Frenchman was frantically blowing into the toaster, in between urgent declaration of, “Fire!”.  Dan’s croissant was aflame.  One of the managers was very pissed off. I had not seen the sign instructing not to put the croissants in the toaster, that was on top of the cold food serving area on the other side of the toaster.  “How was I meant to see that sign!?” I was chagrined, it was nowhere in view when I had looked at the croissants or the toaster.  “You should put a sign on the toaster!”  I retorted angrily.  “It would melt!” The manager stormed off. I took Dan’s burnt toast back to him.  Then I returned to put the sign in the croissants, where it would not be missed by anybody else.  When we left somebody had helpfully put the plastic holder on top of the hot toaster and it had melted and was delightfully curved, like all the sedimentary rocks in the gorge. By Day 2 there was a smaller sign, not in plastic, on top of the toaster, and a second sign in the croissants.

Kalamina Gorge was beautiful, a lot of hiking relative to the availability of swimming.  We hiked to the end, where there was a small pool and a natural arch.   The water was cold but we were hot.  We hiked back.  That night it rained.  No stars were visible as the clouds covered the sky.

The Frogs in the Toilet

 

One TripAdvisor review I’d read about the Eco Retreat had romanticised the presence of frogs in the outdoor bathroom of the deluxe eco tents.  The A4 laminated information notice next to the toilet explained the waste water treatment process at the site, and how the presence of frogs reflected on the health of the system.  It’s difficult to relax on the toilet when at any moment a slimy little frog might jump onto your bits but we settled into a disquiet co-existence. It was when we checked out that we learned the toilets were also housing snakes, coiled up under the rim of the bowl, waiting to eat frogs.  If our toilet had had a snake, it didn’t mistake any of our dangling bits for a tasty frog. Perhaps that’s what the young girl’s screams were last night from across the camp.

 

 

Karijini 2017 – Day 1 Paraburdoo, Tom Price & Weano Gorge

We spent the Easter long weekend in Karajini, a national park in the upper half of Western Australia.  It’s a long way from Perth; we woke at 5 am, took the 07:35 am Qantas flight to Paraburdoo (when we’d booked the flights to Tom Price, closer to the park, were sold out), collected our hire car and drove North East. We drove through Tom Price then into the National Park.  Thankfully Ben & Dion had sufficient small change cash in their pockets for the honesty-system $12 vehicle fee at the unmanned entrance.

Oxer Lookout

 

We started at Oxer Lookout – taking the yellow path along the rim, then down to the water.  Our planned weekend’s hikes were mostly Class 4 difficulty: loose rocks and minor obstacles easily managed by almost everybody visiting.  We donned our backpacks, water bottles filled, remembered to apply suncream to all exposed skin, pulled on our caps and sunglasses and got our cameras out.  The earth is orange and red in the Pilbara, because of the iron content, and it contrasted the green of the plants beautifully.  Daniel led our group, I followed behind him, with Dion and then Ben behind.  As we began our descent I slipped on some loose gravel, trying not to smash Dan’s old SLR camera as I fell.  I watched in silent horror as my right ankle everted what looked like a right angle to my tibia.  There was no crack.  It hurt.  I immediately firmly palpated my lateral and medial malleoli for localising tenderness. No medial malleolar avulsion fracture.  Anterior lateral malleolar tenderness only, so just a sprain.  We had just begun our long weekend and already I was the invalid.

The Eco Retreat

 

We’d booked deluxe tents in the Karijini Eco Retreat: semi-permanent canvas tents equipped with actual beds and ensuite outdoor bathrooms.  No air-conditioning. No fans.  I’ve not camped properly since I was a Boy Scout and I probably never will again; clamping was an acceptable compromise between comfort and accessibility. Individual tents are spaced out enough to give some privacy, though at night especially you can hear most conversations within 50 m.  It was entertaining to listen to other new arrivals discover the frogs in their outdoor bathrooms.  We had reserved a dinner table at the Eco Retreat “restaurant” each night.  Over the three nights we worked our way through their menu.  Interestingly the dishes on our final night were slightly different to the rest of the weekend, plated more professionally and made with a minimal difference in ingredients.  By the third night, though, I really didn’t feel like a steak, or pork belly, and just wanted one of the burgers you could purchase as take-away, but they were explicitly off the menu for the “restaurant”.

 

The Sky

 

The sky was clear our first night and we were treated to the stars and Milky Way without any light pollution – it was brighter than I remembered seeing in Iceland, the last time I could remember looking up at the starry sky.  The Southern Cross was visible, above those two bright stars and all the way across to Orien’s Belt.  We didn’t see the Pleiades.

Southern Cross. Karijini Eco Retreat, Pilbara Western Australia.

Hobbiton

We booked months in advance, planning our hire car, drive South from Auckland, and overnight farmstay accomodation.  Not only did we book the tour, but we booked the Evening Banquet Tour: you get picked up at Shire’s Rest, the entrance to the film set, are guided through the set and end up at the Green Dragon where you’re fed a lot of food.  Any tour that ends with food is good.  Except the tour didn’t end.  We had to walk back to the bus and experience another 40 minutes of content that, in a food coma, I could have done without.  I’m glad we went.

 

Auckland to Matamata

Today we drive South.  Our 24-hour layover in Auckland consisted of catching the Skybus to the CBD in the nadir of darkness before dawn, sleeping through the morning (timezone 6 hours ahead of Perth), walking through the CBD to find breakfast/lunch, before an afternoon nap and waking to find food again: sleep, eat, sleep, eat, sleep.  At 09:00 we checked out of our AirBnB, a penthouse owned by a friend of a friend, and we dragged our carry-ons along the short hills of Auckland’s CBD.  It’s humid.  It’s overcast.  I packed for dry and cold, not humid and warm.  When we arrived at the Europcar pickup centre we were both sweaty and uncomfortable but slightly less snippy, as we’d eaten breakfast on the way.  Then the add-ons began.

During Med School, when I worked Friday evenings in retail, I learned about add-ons: small additional purchases made at Point Of Sale, to increase the value of each sale.  We had towels, pointless cheap accessories, gimmick items.  At the car rental we had booked a Basic Rental of NZ$70.72 per day.  We left with:

* 2 x NZ$70.72 – Basic Rental.

* 2 x NZ$10.00 – Upgrade (satellite navigation – but there is already one in the glove box).

* 2 x NZ$50.00 – Upgrade (I saw sporty Mini Cooper S in the driveway and couldn’t resist taking one).

* 2 x NZ$37/00 – GoZen (I think this is an insurance premium to ensure we pay no excess).

* 2 x NZ$6.00 – Road Assist Cover (we can just call a number with our mobile phones that have no roaming and don’t work in New Zealand).

* 1 x NZ$76.24 – Full tank option (a full tank of petrol costs this much!?)

* 2 x NZ$10/95 – Navigation system (I thought that was the other upgrade, wonder what the other $10 is for).

* 2 x NZ$3.13 – Additional driver fee (damn, I’ll have to offer to drive now.

 

So far we’ve made it out of the CBD, the first few hundred metres with the windscreen wipers and blinkers on (the controls are inverted to our Mazda and we couldn’t find the slight adjustment that disabled either). The cruise control, unlike our Mazda, does not automatically slow down. Dan discovered this as we headed right into the back of a 4WD at 80 km/hr. The sky is cloudy, the view obscured by rain, and it’s uncomfortably humid.  The sat nav is stuck to the entertainment control screen, facing the ceiling because it’s direction mechanism is loose.  We’ve listened to Ramalla three times because it was on repeat.  We passed one dead possum.

Do you even work? Work and the Democracy Sausage.

I post and blog a lot of travel photos and experiences but rarely my work, leaving me open to repeatedly hear the incredulous, “Do you even work!?” Last weekend, a long weekend in Western Australia, Mardi Gras in Sydney, when everybody else on my Facebook feed was interstate marching in a parade, I spent four days straight at work. Yes, I work. In between I squeezed as much as I could. I even work every night from home. After 4 years, my second fellowship project has finally had an accepted manuscript last week.  This was 4 years of mostly unpaid out of hours working from home, on a plane, or during my lunch break.  Yesterday I stayed late at work, to help setup an Excel audit file on the work server for our new non-invasive prenatal aneuploidy screening, and to give the last first trimester screen patient of the day her high risk screening result.  On a Friday afternoon, when I was meant to have gone home an hour before.  I enjoy my jobs, so it never actually feels like work and I forget it’s time to go home.

Today is Western Australia’s state election.  I went in early, at 08:30, to Maylands Park Primary School.  The queue was already tracing the perimeter of the lawn outside the library.  A sausage sizzle was in full swing.  Mostly Greens and Labor flyers were being handed out.  A few independent candidates and solitary Liberal and Australian Christians For Families workers cruised by.  I almost called out to the ACFF representative if she was interested in being a surrogate for my husband and I, to start a family, seeing as she was in support of families and all.  But that would be advertising intent which is illegal in Australia.  I just listened to the onions and sausages quietly sizzling on the barbecue and stared at my green thongs, thankful I wasn’t in a country where I would be thrown off a roof, tied to a chair blindfolded because I had a husband.  Then I resented my country because our marriage is still not legally recognised. A trans woman was stoned to death last week somewhere overseas.

I didn’t purchase a Democracy Sausage as I was full from eating leftovers for breakfast (Dan has been in Rottnest for two nights, staying with Charlotte – her plus one for a wedding, so I have had UberEats deliver food because I’m too lazy to cook).  I felt like having a sausage sizzle so I drove all the way to Bunnings in Morley, on the pretext to purchase terracotta pots that I could’ve got in Mount Lawley, but conveniently the entrance was flanked with Dianella Scouts and their sausage sizzle.  A$2.50 got me a sausage, with onions, in a bun, tomato sauce and the yellow one.  I managed to push the left-steering trolley right through to the outdoor garden section one-handed without bumping into anything hard enough to knock it over, just a few scratches and dents.

Today, I exercised my democratic right to vote.  I enjoyed my weekend re-potting our new plants, afforded by my penalty rate 2013 AMA Industrial Agreement Medical Practitioner callbacks from the extra on call shifts I picked up. A job I studied long and hard to get, supported at the time by social welfare (Austudy) and subsidised by the Australian Government by the Higher Education Contribution Scheme.  As bummed as I am to now be in the top tax bracket and see almost half my income taxed, I get a secret thrill wondering if my tax dollars are helping new Medical Students become doctors too; when my uncle had a stroke last month feeling safe that he both accessed appropriate emergency care and could afford it too, because it’s publicly funded; that some of my cousins, who are facing tough times, will probably be supported by our collective contributions.  I still haven’t finished reading that Ayn Rand book about John Gault.

In the morning my eyes pricked with tears of nationalistic pride as my mind remembered how excited I was in Primary School every election, when the school grounds were transformed into a shrine to democracy.  I possibly annoyed my Mum more about her duty to vote than about how much better we were told to eat per day or how we should be going to church every Sunday.  I was a deontological child. Grown up, I almost forgot the election was today; if it weren’t for  somebody posting a link to the WA State Election 2017 sausage sizzle map, I might have forgot to vote. Time to get back to rolling a rock up a hill.

http://democracysausage.org

http://www.electionsausagesizzle.com.au

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