On My Last Few Days of Freedom

The hostel I stayed at in Perth was by far the worst hostel I’ve ever stayed in. And that’s saying a lot, because I stayed in a grand total of thirty four different hostels in Asia. I woke after the first night covered from head to toe in what I can only assume were bed bugs. But they weren’t the only bugs that inhabited the place: the walls of the bathroom and the kitchen were crawling with cockroaches and various other unidentifiable Australian insects. The hostel was also home to a gang of very strange men, who sat outside on the street and smoked weed every night. One member of this gang resembled a manga character come to life. Born in Australia, he had moved to Japan a few years previously, and was trying as hard as possible to absorb the Japanese way of life. This involved picking up a Japanese accent (which merged curiously into his Australian accent) as well as dying his hair black and spiking it up in all directions. I was walking past the hostel one day when he yelled “hello” very enthusiastically in my general direction, even though I was on the other side of the street. He accosted me several times over the course of the two painful days I was there, at one point even serenading me with his guitar. Safe to say it didn’t work.

After the second sleepless night I decided it was definitely time to leave, despite the fact it was the only unbooked hostel with parking. The previous day had been forty degrees, and it hadn’t cooled down much by night-time. Predictably, the hostel didn’t have aircon, so I showered in my clothes and then put the fan on me. It didn’t work particularly well, and I showered a grand total of four times that night, insanely jealous of Lucy and Flo who were next door in a blissful air-conditioned dorm. The next morning, I checked out of the hostel.

“You leaving Perth?” said the Chinese receptionist, who had bizarrely taken a liking to me.

“Err, no, I’m staying with…friends” I stuttered in response, lying to cover the fact that I was actually moving to the hostel next door.

That evening I dropped my car at a mechanic in Kardinya.  My horrendous parking was probably a bad omen for what was to come. But I’ll get onto that later.

My flight to Bangkok was horribly early, and I politely tried to avoid conversations with the taxi driver and the guy sitting next to me on the plane. They were both fascinated by the fact that I was studying philosophy, which although flattering, was not a subject I wished to discuss at 6am. As for the guy on the plane, I couldn’t hear a word he was saying and was too absorbed by the new film Everest to talk about anything intellectual.

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The view from the 32nd floor of the Peninsula Hotel

I welcomed Asia back with open arms, delighting once again in the chaos in Bangkok. I reunited with my parents, and we ate a wonderful dinner overlooking the Chao Phraya river, before retiring to the most comfortable bed I’d been in in months, on the thirty-second floor of the notorious Peninsula Hotel.  The next morning we headed for the boat.

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Dinner by the Chao Phraya river

My dad’s latest mad purchase was a 120 foot yacht moored in Burma. It was a Fife replica, completely rebuilt from the drawings Peter, the owner, had obtained from the British museum. It had taken him five years to build her, and he’d been sailing around Burma for a further six, so understandably he wasn’t particularly happy to part with her.

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My dad’s latest acquisition

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We sailed for a glorious week in the Mergui Archipelago, an untouched Burmese paradise. In seven days, we saw a grand total of three other boats. One day we sailed to a deserted lagoon, only accessible by swimming under some overhanging rocks. We moored Sunshine and left her swaying at anchor, taking the dinghy inland before diving in. It was like the lagoon from the movie “The Beach”, but without the throngs of tourists and the 400 baht entry fee. Once again, we were the only people there. When I looked beneath me I could see a massive shoal of fish twisting and turning, reminding me of the school of fish from Finding Nemo. They shimmered away from me when I swam through them, parting like the Red Sea.

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Not bad, eh?

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Untouched Burmese paradise

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The deserted lagoon

Another day we visited the native Mokam tribe. They were living on one of the main islands in the archipelago, in a village of around fifty houses. They were children and starving dogs everywhere. The children took a real taking to us, holding our hands as we wandered through. One little girl’s mother had died in childbirth and her father had run off with another woman. She was innocent and sweetly vulnerable. It was hard leaving them, but she held hands with her adopted sister and waved goodbye when we left.

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For some reason, we’d booked onto another hideously timed flight, and landed in Perth at 6am. My mother, upon arrival, declared that she loved Australia already. “But we’re only at the airport!” I replied, bemused. We hired a car to save Toastie some driving, and headed to the mechanic.

Our exchange started badly, as when we arrived he immediately declared that he was closed. He then announced that there was only bad news to report about my darling car. He proceeded to show me a list of what was wrong with her, stopping when the list trailed off to “thought car was too shit, discontinued with the service”. And for some reason, he then refused to give me a copy of the service details- perhaps because he was highly unprofessional and embarrassed. He continued slating me for the next half an hour, perhaps failing to realise that I knew my car had problems and that was the reason I’d taken her to a mechanic. But she did look rather rusted and forlorn next to the other more glamorous cars in his garage.

He got so worked up that he firstly accused me of leaving her there for free parking, before declaring that “it was so disgraceful that I needn’t even pay for the service”. Alright, mate. This was fine by me. I now knew what exactly what was wrong, and had saved myself $200. This was my second free service, I was on a roll!

After I’d calmed down somewhat, I drove to my new house and parked her there in the blazing sun. My new housemates were even more charming than I’d remembered, and they invited us for a drink when we returned from our road trip.

The following morning, after a delicious dinner in Freo and the most mouthwatering pannacotta i’ve ever had, we hit the road. Although it was my third time down south, I was still able to appreciate the evening light reflecting off the endless vineyards and eucalyptuses. We spent the night at a B&B in Margaret River that was wonderfully quaint on the outside but resembled an unpopular Indian restaurant on the inside. The décor was interesting, to say the least (depressing would be more apt), but in the dim light I fell asleep quickly. However, the breakfast made up for it. We sat outside and admired the charming pebble-dash and roses climbing the walls, moving onto the veranda when the heavens opened and we may as well have been in England.

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The impressive Leeuwin Estate

My parents seem to have a knack of making contacts wherever they go. They’d met a couple in London who knew some people who “owned this small vineyard in Australia”. This happened to be, coincidentally, in Margaret River, and was none other than the famous Leeuwin Estate, a huge vineyard that holds an annual concert on their sweeping grounds, hosting the likes of Sting and the Royal Phillharmonic Orchestra. And so we took full advantage of this contact, getting a free wine tour.

 

By mid-afternoon the rain still hadn’t died down, so after a quick look at where the Indian and the Southern Oceans meet, we headed to Pemberton. We arrived in a flurry of rain (and maybe even hail), and began the search for accommodation. My dad had his heart set on “Forrest Lodge Resort”, even though there were other equally inviting names which didn’t have the word “resort” in their name: “Karri Valley Retreat”, “Lakeside Garden Retreat, “Karri Valley Lodge”- they were all confusingly similar. That evening was so cold that I climbed into bed in all my clothes, including my coat. We ordered an Indian takeaway and watched The Big Lebowksi, collapsing in fits of hysterics and nearly choking on our buttered chicken curry whenever Jeff Bridges spoke.

Our time in Albany was short but sweet. The weather had finally improved, meaning that my dad sat shirtless at the restaurant, something I wasn’t sure I was entirely happy about. When we arrived we waited for hours outside our B&B, entering and re-entering the code. Two hours later, we still hadn’t managed to unlock the door, and so I harassed the owner by calling him incessantly. He picked up on the 10th ring, and “reconfirmed”, or rather told us, the code. Somehow, he’d confused the digit “8” with the digit “5”, meaning that unless we tried a hideously high number of combinations we were unlikely to be able to get inside. He was apologetic but not apologetic enough.

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As the sun was out the next day, we rushed excitedly to the beach. ‘Little Beach” in “Two People’s Bay Nature Reserve” is voted one of the most beautiful beaches in Australia, but it’s also one of the most confusingly named. I lost count of the number of times we grew hysterical when we referred to it as “Little People’s Beach”. I don’t even know why it was funny in the first place- maybe it’s because I was picturing a beach full of Borrowers. Instead, it was a beach deserted apart from a rather large woman fishing, standing with her legs apart to balance herself. She rather ruined the view, and my dad spent most of the time scowling at her while he tried to snap a good picture.

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I was rather nebich when my parents left the following Saturday. I waded around in a sea of half-unpacked items, and proceeded to make plans with everyone I knew who was still actually in Perth. I was so unused to university life that Liss and I made plans to head to Rotto the second day of uni. After crawling on the ground for a good few hours we finally managed to get our compulsory quokka selfie. Exchange life isn’t bad, eh?

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