Greetings from Bali! Where I am killing time until I can check into my accommodations. As I’m writing this, it is 2am here. (I’ve recently landed. #cheapairfare)
Now, a bit about Perth...
I spent my birthday last week in Perth.
While taking off on my flight from Alice Springs to Perth, I got my phone at the ready to take a cliched picture of the airplane wing in flight over scenery.
La-dee-da, get phone ready, wipe off lens with shirt, look to the left, and HOLY SMOKES!
Great, big, ominous billowing plumes of black smoke were pouring from a patch of trees nearby. Goody!
I'm not sure what the source of the fire was, and I hoped everyone was okay; I also hoped it was not a bad omen for the flight.
When I landed and went to the baggage claim to retrieve my beast of a backpack, I was immediately singled out by the bomb-sniffing dog who rushed over to me and began sniffing my carry-on luggage. Visions of me holed up in a Perth prison quickly filled my brain as I began to unnecessarily sweat (knowing nothing illicit was in my bag or had been on my person).
I was asked to empty my bags, and began pouring out its contents:
Many cords, adapters, little bags of dried pre-mixed latte (popular here), granola bars, dog-eared books, and some weird little quiche cake things we’d been given on the Quantas flight from Alice Springs to Perth.
The airport employee asked me if I'd recently had any fruit in my luggage. I hadn't, but this was not a hill I wanted to die/be detained on.
I impulsively said “yes” out of nerves and added, "a banana, I think. Yesterday, maybe."
"Ah, that must be what she was picking up then,” she smiled.
After the dog incident, I saw two of my friends from the Outback camping trip, Pascale and Tusi, who'd been on my same flight. We waved goodbye to each other in that way that's like: Well, I'll probably never see you again for as long as I live, but have a great trip in Perth!
I checked into my hostel, the Shiralee, which is family-run. The owner was often around, and – unlike every other place I’ve stayed – would say to everyone he saw: “Hey! What’s your name? How’re you going? Where you off to next then?”
As a result, the whole place had a very communal, “adult-orphanage” feel.
My first night in Perth, I took a class at the Western Australian Ballet, which was a lot of fun. Here's a pre-class pic from warm-up:
One of the cool and interesting things about ballet is that no matter where you are in the world, the vocabulary is the same. Ballet terms are all in French, as it is the dance form’s primary origin country. (Ballet technically began in Italy, in the 15th and 16th centuries, but it gained full steam as an art in France, in the court of King Louis XIV.)
So, for instance, I could take a ballet class in Brazil, and not knowing Portuguese, I could still understand what was going on and what we were to do.
I love that about ballet; it is inherently global.
I remember the first time I watched a ballet; I was around 10, I think, and went to see “The Nutcracker” at the Fox Theater in St. Louis. I remember thinking – (though, in less flowery words than the following) – that all the dancers onstage exuded this very interesting and appealing combination of strength, grit, toughness, and power –simultaneously coupled with beauty, delicacy, and daintiness (and, pretty, pink, poofy, sparkly outfits). My 10 year-old self thought: Yep, that’s gonna be one of my “things”!
Early on in high school, I was a company member in a now-defunct ballet company in St. Louis called Ballet Midwest. I was not high ranking in it by any means, but I lived for it. I was cast as an understudy for the 4 swans in “Swan Lake,” and when I saw that casting on the roster, I thought: Life can get no better than this moment.
Did you know that NFL football players sometimes take ballet classes for strength training?
Sharna, a fellow dancer (who also served as photographer for the warm-up pic), warned me about crocodiles when I told her I was next visiting Broome:
“It’s wet season there right now. Very hot and humid. I’d stay away from any water if I were you. And – you probably know this already – “ (I didn’t) “never go in water that’s shaded, and never go in evening or morning, that’s when the crocs are most active.”
The ballet teacher was from South Africa and has been dancing in Australia for 10 years. At the start of class, Sharna said to the teacher: "We have someone here from the U.S.!"
I gave a weak, shy wave.
"Where are you from?"
"I live in New York City."
"What a shit hole!" he said with a smile.
The class was tough, and the people in it were great and very welcoming. Sharna even drove me back to my hostel, which was incredibly kind. (It’s true what they say about Aussies: they are a very nice, warm, and hospitable bunch.)
I was waiting outside the Western Australia Ballet Center, looking (futilely) for a cab. She said: "This is Uber country out here. You'll never find one. I can give you a lift home. I'm heading into the city."
As we drove over to Brisbane Street, she told me about her work as a financial planner. She specializes in helping people figure out finances for helping their aging parents. She's writing a book about it too.
One woman from class, Pia, is coming to NYC in April so we'll hopefully go to a ballet class together when she's in town. Pia works at the university in Perth, and also has a side hustle of her own Etsy shop, UtopiaDancewear. She just got her first order from France the other day and tells me it was very exciting.
Here's her bestselling tee (a wordplay on Star Wars + dance terms):
I celebrated my birthday in Perth by going on this wine tour boat-cruise thing through Swan Valley. I'd like to say I entered the boat that morning at 9:30 am like this:
But, in reality, it was more like this:
I took a seat inside the boat and cooled down a bit with an iced coffee, then I had some fast and important decisions to make.
I first sat at a table across from a stone-faced couple and a family of three beside me. I got a strong we-are-not-especially-fun-and-happy-people vibe from all at the table. I knew I had a very small window of time in which I could ditch Mr. and Mrs. Stone-Faced McMummblesons and co., before I was stuck.
“I’m going to go see if I can find a seat by one of the windows,” I said, giving the apathetic table a little smile and wave. I got up, and looked around. The tables were filling up fast. I saw one at the end, however, which looked promising. Two couples happily chatting with each other and laughing.
My people! I thought.
I walked over t them. “Is this seat free?” I said.
“Yeah, have a seat!” said Christy.
Christy and Mike are Perth natives, and both had the day off work, so decided to take a wine cruise to see the city and be tourists for the day. They each manage separate department stores in the same chain. “They say we’re really laid back here,” said Christy, talking about Perth. “Yeah, some say we’re too laid back, but I don’t think so,” said Mike. “There’s a difference between laid-back and lazy, you know?”
When we left Perth harbor, Christy pointed out to me several pairs of nearby dolphins which were swimming together. Seeing the beautiful dolphins made me think of Lisa Frank folders from grade school and how much I coveted them:
Gordon and Jackie, my other tablemates, are from Aberdeen, Scotland. They’re in Perth for 3 weeks visiting friends from Scotland who now live here. Turns out, it was Gordon’s birthday too! Well, on Feb. 29 (a Leap Year baby). He always celebrates on the 28th, though. All five of us delighted in the coincidence of us the two birthday folk being at the same table.
I liked Jackie and Gordon a lot, and enjoyed how self-effacing they were (“Of course we didn’t buy anything–we’re Scottish!" …. “I don’t think many Scots have a preference on red versus white wine; mostly we’re all just alcoholics in Scotland”). I told them both that the Scottish accent – along with Irish – is my favorite.
As we sailed along the water and out of the harbor towards Swan Valley, the captain began his scripted commentary: “Perth is one of the windiest cities in the world, along with Chicago. But I am told Chicago is because of their politics...”
The captain was a one-stop shop: He steered the ship, did commentary, served muffins and coffee, and cracked jokes. He was like the Dick Van Dyke character in the original Mary Poppins – a one-man-band:
On the ride through Swan Valley, Christy and Mike talked about Perth and WA (Western Australia); “Western Australia wants to be separate and on its own from Australia, until it doesn’t.”
It’s interesting (although, not wholly unsurprising), how when people over here ask where I’m from and I say the U.S., DJT (aka Trump), will always – and I do mean always, without fail, every time – be mentioned by the person I’m speaking with. I can tell that they're broaching the topic gently, unsure of my feelings towards him, and for whom I voted in 2016.
It’s like: Let's see...For the past 5 weeks, I have been living in – what are, basically –socialist hippie communes [hostels], living out of an 80 gallon* backpack full of always-slightly-dirty clothes, and eating muesli with soy milk for most meals....so, who do YOU think I voted for?
Thus, I’ve learned to head off this whole dance of do-you-or-do-you-not by usually outright stating a qualifier before his name. Often, an unfavorable adjective; varies which I chose.
As I always do, after the Scots brought up DJT, I said something like, “Oh, well, our terrible president…”
And Gordon, to my surprise, said: “I actually like him. I think he’s a good leader.” This was the first time I’d ever encountered support of DJT from a non-American.
I bit my tongue, reminding myself that we’d all be together for the next six hours, and then toasted to our mutual birthdays, with the round of Chardonnay that had just been served at 10:30 am.
The captain of the boat talked about his visits to NYC, after asking where I lived in the U.S.
“When I went there….’06, I think it was?…I felt like Crocodile Dundee!"
He went on: "Loved all the diners there, you know? You get your big cheese omelet and coffee – and they keep coming to fill it up. I’d be dead in 6 months if I lived there! All them cheese omelets and Oreos…”
He then talked about how much he loved American mafia lore, and any movie with Al Pacino. We sailed onward:
I enjoyed the Captain’s commentary and one-liners, too. As we passed a small fishing boat, with three people crammed into it, which sat low in the water, he said: “Rub-a-dub-dub they’re about to be sunk!”
The server on the boat was an avid ocean swimmer. Someone asked her if she was afraid of the Great White sharks that pepper the Western coast. “As long as they eat me head first I’m fine,” she said.
As we wound our way down the river and into the valley, we went under a narrow and exceedingly low bridge.
The captain told us that it’d been built in the 1930s (“they didn’t have the foresight then about taller boats…”). When the tide is especially high, the boat can’t go through the bridge and, thus, can’t go to the winery (“…we give them the option to book another day, or to just stay on the boat and drink a bunch of free wine,” the captain told me. “I think you can guess what most people choose!”). The boat, however, is equipped with a special thing (<--technical term) at the bottom that allows it to suck in gallons and gallons of water, thus lowering the boat a full 8 inches and then being able to make it through the bridge if the tide isn’t prohibitively high. (I found it all quite interesting.)
As we passed the time, I asked Gordon and Jackie about their travels some more, and they told me how they’d been at Disney World in Florida when 9-11 happened, and how eerie it was. “The whole park shut down and they made everyone leave. We didn’t even know what’d happened until the next day. We went back to the park the next few days and there weren’t any Americans there. It was only foreigners, and it was so quiet…we didn’t have to wait in line for a single ride.”
Here’s a picture of me and the Scots – Gordon and Jackie:
Another thing that has been popping up a lot in conversations with strangers/new friends on my travels is climate change.
“Gets more humid here every year...” said Christy and Mike of Perth.
Gordon and Jackie commented on the Arctic-level temps they’d read about in Chicago from last month, and said how Scotland has been especially cold this year too.
Good thing climate change isn’t real though, right? Then we’d all really be screwed!
We arrived at the beautiful Sandalford Winery and were led on a tour.
It was around this time that I had some lapses in attention, so I can’t tell you much about how the wine there is actually made. But, a picture is worth a thousand words, so here's 3:
(One thing I do remember from the tour is that Sting once performed at the vineyard. I remember thinking: They must’ve paid him a LOT of money to come out here.)
The tour was followed by a tasting. I liked the rosé best. (Perhaps mostly because it was my favorite color.)
On the way back, I chatted with a couple from Essex (which is just outside of London). They were on their honeymoon (a 6-month honeymoon; they saved up, quit their jobs before the wedding, and traveled around Asia and Australia the past 5 months), and they kept talking about how much they hated the TV show “TOWIE.” The woman then told me essentially her entire medical history. I was trapped in the conversation, and there was no polite way out.
Nearly died at 23. (Vein clotting issue.
Diagnosed with endometriosis at 26.
She got diagnosed with endometriosis right after she’d begun dating her now-husband. They were one month into dating at the time. She told me: “When I got the diagnosis, I figured surely he wouldn’t want to keep dating me if I’m not able to have kids. And we’ve been together six years.”
I am someone who often assumes things about people and situations; hearing her story was a good reminder to not assume (in her case, assuming her burgeoning relationship was soon-to-be-over). You just never know. (Until you know; then, you know. You know?)
Thankfully, we were nearing Perth harbor:
Back at the hostel, I chatted with my French friends I'd made the night before, Elodie and Baptiste, and settled in on the enormous couch with about 10 other people to watch some Melissa McCarthy movie in which she goes back to college.
I opened the large bag of salt and vinegar chips I’d purchased at a convenience store down the road, and ate the chips like popcorn at a movie theater: I shoveled them furiously and hurriedly into my mouth like I was preparing for a fasting ritual.
It was one of those half-baked movies with a C-grade plot which was surely greenlit with the idea of: "Melissa McCarthy...she's popular! Let's build a mediocre movie around her and make some money from the mindless masses."
Anyways, I fell asleep during the movie, then woke up FOUR HOURS LATER on the couch. By that time, there was just one other person there, and he was also asleep. The Mark Wahlberg movie "Ted 2" was now playing. I wondered if the original one, “Ted,” had proceeded it.
I dragged myself to my room and went to bed.
Side note anecdote from the Outback, which I forgot to include in the last update, which not only highlights my kind and helpful nature, as well as how children seem to be drawn to me (perhaps it's because they can sense in me a like-minded overly gullible disposition and a fellow loathing of imposed bedtimes), but also – and is the main reason for sharing it – provides an interesting Australian cultural observation:
On Day 4 of the Outback trip, we all went swimming in a gorge.
There was a little boy there, Leo, age 5, and we played in the sand for a bit. His mom later yelled to him from her sun tent:
"Leo, wash your hands in the water before lunch!"
He did as he was told, then started to march up the sand towards their tent, and then he fell, stretched out his hands, and landed in the sand, and his hands were no longer "clean" (as "clean" as one's hands can get from swimming in a moss and fish-filled body of stagnant water).
This happened once more – wash hands, fall on hands, sandy hands – and so, after he washed his hands a third time, I said, "Leo, do you want me to give you a piggyback ride to your tent?" He said no, and instead, stretched out his arms for me to pick him up. So I did, and balanced him on my hip like a basket of laundry and walked him up to his mom who said: "tell your new friend thank you!”
Tour guide Shannon yelled out to me: "THAT'S SOMETHIN' THEY ONLY DO IN THE STATES! You'd never see that in Australia," referring (I think) to making extra concessions to help a kid stay clean then giving them a free ride across the sand. I think Aussie kids are raised to be more "rough and tumble" (based on things Australians have told me).
And, by the way, you think I’m joking about the Pied Piper-like effect I have on kids?
Well, THINK AGAIN!...
On my flight to Broome, this adorable little girl was sat in front of me, and for nearly the whole duration of the 2 hr 30-minute flight, she wedged her head in between the seats in front of me and stared at me for most of the flight. We made silly faces at each other and she gave me high fives.
And sometimes, she'd reach back to hold my hand. (Yes, I took a picture.)
When arriving in Broome by air, you basically land on the beach. Or, at least, it looked that way when we prepared for landing:
A note on Perth Airport security, which I encountered before my flight to Broome.
In short: abysmal.
Not the airport/security personnel, they were all nice and friendly.
No, I’m talking about the security screening process itself.
When I flew from Perth to Broome, I was astounded by how low-level the security was. It’s like the security you'd find at a Greyhound Bus station. Which, having arrived in and departed from many – I can assure you – is absolutely none. No security.
Actually, I think I've had more secure bus rides, in the instances when I had to present my ID to retrieve my ticket.
I kid you not, there was zero identification process at the Perth International Airport.
As I typically do, I had my passport in my back pocket, at the ready. Ok, you don't need to show it at check-in, fine – just punch in your name into the kiosk thing. Walk to go through security. Okay, no one seems to be working here apparently...no one looked at a boarding pass, much less ID.
I got to my gate and showed them my ticket, but, at this rate, did it even matter?
I could've been anyone.
Broome felt like kind of a quiet, sleepy place, but I'm sure I've judged it too quickly, and my impression is based on a mere 48 hours spent here so that's not quite fair to Broome. Also, I was sick while I was there, so my entire experience was colored by my not feeling well.
As a result, being in Broome was a real exercise in "celebrate the small victories" :
get out of bed, take shower, get a bunch of work done in the hostel kitchen while drinking too much Coke Zero (why don't they have Diet Coke in Australia? Or maybe they do, and I've just never seen it...), walk down to the beach to see the sunset, watch Ruth Bader Ginsberg documentary (so inspiring – highly recommend), pet the local homeless kitten at the hostel named Jackson, go to bed, wake up, go to airport, get on flight.
I saw some dogs playing in the water while the sun set. They looked so happy and free:
Broome is definitely the most laid-back place I've been thus far. And it had me missing the creature comforts of NYC, like Seamless (a takeout delivery service), for one.
I stayed at a hostel called “Beaches of Broome,” which sounds so idyllic, right? Prior to coming, I wondered if I’d see more brooms in Broome. Like, do the people that live here enjoy (and capitalize on) the wordplay potential? If I lived in Broome, I might build a table made entirely of brooms.
Broome, a small beach town of 16,000 residents, is known for its pearl trade. Like a number of other things in Australia (and this is true of countless other countries as well), the pearl trade has a stained history. In centuries past, Aboriginal women and girls were enslaved and forced to dive for pearls in Broome.
When I read this, I thought:
A. How the Aboriginals were treated was (and remains, to a different degree) so terrible.
B. Pearls…beads…funny thing:
I thought of an anecdote from last year; an exchange I had with one of the drivers who drives me to work. (As one of my jobs, I work as a researcher at a corporate PR company, and I begin my workday at 5 am, so the company sends a fancy town car to pick me up to take me to the office, which makes the early start time ever-so-slightly more bearable).
I was working on Columbus Day (as was the driver), and he was talking about how (and I have not researched this, so I don’t know if it’s true): “…when Columbus first came here,” said the driver, “he paid for the land in beads and buttons!”
“I wish I could pay my RENT in bead and buttons!” I said.
We both had a good chuckle.
I relayed the exchange to my brother Kevin later that week, and every few months or so, “beads and buttons” will pop up in some form.
“Do you have enough beads and buttons to buy me lunch?” I may ask.
I had a lot of happy & helpful coincidences in Broome, which has left me with a very good feeling about the town, despite the fact that I didn't get the opportunity to enjoy it as much as I would've like to, as I was sick.
1. Having a nice and friendly roommate in the hostel. Bronnie, a Kiwi (aka from New Zealand) woman, has spent the last 20 years traveling the world. Bronnie was the best part of Broome. Each of the 2 mornings I was there, she'd say across the room from her bed: "Did you have a good sleep, Anne?"
What a lovely way to begin the day.
2. Surfer Jesus-looking dude giving me some of his chicken curry for dinner.
3. Airport shuttle pulling up at the time I needed it, sans me requesting one. They were stopping by and I needed a ride, and it saved me the usual travel-day stress of: must find ride/transport to the airport so I'm there for my usual 3+-hours-pre-departure airport arrival time (a steadfast requisite regardless of destination – domestic or international – to the annoyance of all who travel with me or take me to the airport).
The shuttle driver was a 70-something man who had visited to the U.S. last November with his wife. "…But when we got there it was a public holiday! Everything was shut! It was a Thursday. What kind of public holiday is there on a bloody Thursday?!"
"It was probably Thanksgiving," I offered.
"Yeh, could've done."
He asked me what I did in Broome.
"Did you make it to Cable Beach?"
"Yes, I went last night to watch the sunset."
"Good on ya."
I nodded proudly.
"Did you get into town then? See the main street and the mall?”
"No, I wasn't feeling very well when I was here."
"That's okay, you can come back."
"Did you at least get to [well-known Broome pub I can’t recall the name of] for a pint?"
"No, I didn't."
"Did you see any of the Mardi Gras celebrations this weekend?"
"Did you at least see the camels on Cable Beach when you went? It's what Broome is most famous for!"
NO, BECAUSE, LIKE I SAID, I DID NOT FEEL WELL. AND NOW YOU'RE MAKING ME FEEL WORSE ABOUT MY FORTITUDE AS A TRAVELER SO PLEASE, ENOUGH WITH THE THIRD DEGREE!
But, polite social convention dictates I couldn't say the above. So, instead, I just said this:
"No, didn't see the camels."
"Mate!" he said.
"I know, I know. I was a little under the weather. So, I mostly just stayed at the hostel."
"That's okay. You can come back. Maybe next time with a man; bring a partner! You'll have more fun that way."
LISTEN, I really appreciate the unsolicited advice, and I do believe it is coming from a good-natured and well-meaning place, but it makes me feel less-than, so please, just can it, buddy!
Instead, I just chirped: "Yeah, maybe!"
I handed him $15 for the ride and walked into the Broome airport, which has 3 gates, one of which is open-air:
I flew from Broome, then to Darwin, where I had a 5-hour layover. Next, I was Bali-bound!
Here’s my route I’ve traveled thus far (since I landed in Oz):
Among the many reasons I'm going to Bali (okay, mainly one; did you read that book Eat Pray Love? My good buddy Liz G., who I got to interview for Ms. Magazine a few years ago, made Bali sound so beautiful in her book) – is that while I was reflecting on my goals for the next 2** years on my bday, I decided I want to have visited a total of 50 countries in two birthday's time. I'm already at 28 countries, so, not too far off.
And I figured: hey, when else will I be this close to Indonesia? So, as a birthday present to myself, I took myself there. Wasn’t that nice of me to do for me?
So, Indonesia can now be added to the list of places I’ve visited.
Only 21 countries to go! (I think an efficiently-executed trip to Central and South America, and Africa, will lead to a lot of boxes checked.)
*It's so weird to me that size of backpacking backpacks are sized by how many gallons they can hold. I’m sure there’s a logical reason for it. It just makes me think of ice cream though.
**I prefer to set and tackle goals in 2-year increments, versus the traditional "5 Year Plan." I feel like it gives them a greater sense of urgency, and thus, a greater likelihood of becoming achieved.