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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Not all our holiday plans work out well and I usually only post positives but, at the risk of sounding like a privileged whiny white tourist, hopefully our experience at Ranthambhore not seeing tigers is amusing:
I just wanted a holiday where I could have a break from work; as much as I love my jobs, I needed to get away for a week. Somehow I’ve ended up hiding in our “deluxe” resort room – a space that is furnished and smells like the 1907s time capsule that was the Doctor’s Room at Shenton Park Hospital before it was closed, something that once might’ve been a tad luxurious but is now ventilated by the hum of the bar refrigerator that refuses to die.
Dan is sitting outside, in a cement circle that surrounds a pubescent tabla player and his mid thirties singer/accordion player. If the entrances are labelled as 12 and 6 o’clock there is a hotel employee swaying from foot-to-foot at 7 o’clock, guarding a platter of stale biscuits half-covered in cling wrap, and two urns of hot water. You may request either tea, or instant coffee. After a two-year coffee exile in Canada I learned to appreciate even Tim Hortons brown dishwater as drinkable but I couldn’t finish my hot cup of brown bitterness tonight.
From 8 to 12 o’clock are spread out a group of mainland Chinese tourists. They appeared at the hotel reception area an hour ago, probably returning from a safari, as Daniel and I were working on our laptops. That’s when the hotel reception wifi gave up. Dan was finishing up a proof-reading job for the Americans who occasionally send him work, I was catching up on TripAdvisor reviews. Since TripAdvisor began rewarding review entries with points I can’t help but want to achieve the top rank, or just accumulate points. The hotelier had given us the wifi password with a request to review them favourably on TripAdvisor. A bit presumptive, as we’d only just checked in. If I sleep through tonight, I’ll consider it. My review of the Taj Mahal hung, as the wifi struggled to cope with so many users. It timed out. Can’t review the hotel if the wifi doesn’t work.
The two performers are sitting in the circle at 1 o’clock, half a radius from centre. The “cultural experience” would have been bearable, perhaps pleasant, if the tabla player stuck to doing what he could do. Instead they are both singing. The boy is tone deaf, and tries to make up for being very off-key by screaming. It’s like watching the joke reality TV talent show entries where everybody else cringes but the performer doesn’t know they’ve only been put forward to be made fun of. I felt embarrassed for the performers, the Chinese tourists were taking selfies and chatting to themselves, the other hotel staff watched forlornly, and Daniel read his book. I swatted insects from buzzing about may head and hoped I wasn’t getting bitten by mosquitos.
I hoped for an improvement but when, Three Blind Mice, was mixed into the presumably North Indian repertoire I decided to accept reality: I am stranded in a tiger forest in North India without working wifi, a laptop screen that now flickers with coloured lines and threatens to go permanently black, to the squawking of an adolescent in a turban. My only hopes at survival are my 60 mL roll-on insect repellant, the 5 sugar sachets next to the kettle and an oblivious and very relaxed Daniel, who is reading an ebook on his iPhone and very much looking forward to possibly seeing a wild tiger tomorrow.
Things we travelled to see but didn’t:
- Northern lights in Iceland.
- Wild moose in Canada.
- Grand Canyon in winter.
- Tigers in Ranthambhore.
The Amber Fort in Jaipur is pretty. It is also crowded, with tourists, hawkers and guides. If you want to queue and don’t question whether they are ethically housed/trained/captive, you can ride an elephant up to the fort. We drove. It was a warm morning; we’ve taken off our jackets in Jaipur. In the street now, in addition to cows and dogs there are camels and elephants.
Our driver took us past a few landmarks in Jaipur as well as some popular shops for tourists. Dan and I got measured for some tailored suits (I chose a fabric that I hope I don’t regret) and Mum selected so many textile items she spent twice her budget.