Sunshine, waves and something more
Perth, 13th November – 5th December
Perth was an important stop on the Australian leg of our trip and therefore I don’t think you will be surprised that I have written one more text about it. We have already started in the metropolis with its history and its sights. (“Capital of Gold”). I have also introduced you to our Australian family and the cares they gave us with such love and affection (“Down Under Home”). But there is one more part left in which we will speak of adventures, wedding gifts coming true, close encounters with nature and meeting new people.
ON THE WAVES
Can you imagine if we were in Australia for four whole months and didn’t get on a surfboard once? I think we would have entered a list of defective hipster-nomads and I don’t think we can afford such shame on our resumes. It is 6:30 am. Outside it is 14 degrees. We are going surfing at Scarborough Beach.
We arrive on time and are welcomed by the surf school owner - Keith, who starts with the jokes early on. He doesn’t care much that we are all still half asleep and can’t quite understand them. We sign the forms that the school has no responsibility if anything is to happen to us and the preparations begin. Let me tell you - putting on a wet wetsuit on a cold morning is the most uncomfortable thing for a beginner surfer. And just so it is obvious to everyone that we are newbies, on top of the black wetsuits we put on yellow rashies with the logo of the school. With every lesson, the colour will change to mark our progress but today we are marked with the brightest one.
My toes go blue as we go through the basic instructions on the grass - how to carry a surfboard, how to hold it in water, how to catch a wave and all other theoretical steps of surfing. To also scare us early on, Keith doesn’t miss out to tell us the gruesome stories of people losing a finger and breaking their nose when incorrectly managing the surfboard.
And now, it is time to pick up the boards and head to the sand. The water temperature is 22 degrees so it warms us up after the coldness of the grass. We get in quickly to try “catching” a wave after which we get out for dry training of the four steps to stand up on a board - 1. paddle, paddle, paddle; 2. cobra; 3. front knee on the board; 4. get up. On the sand we are wizards but it is crystal clear to everyone that once in the water, the execution would be completely different and … clumsy.
Our expectations are correct! For me, the entire hour on water passes in a constant battle with the waves. I couldn’t catch many and I definitely didn’t come close to the idea of standing up on the board. This sport is so incredibly difficult! Not for Nic, of course, who takes on the waves immediately and stands up a few times. Well done! Not that I am surprised - I haven’t yet heard of a sport that doesn’t go down well for him at an amateur or even semi-professional level.
Towards the end of the lesson I have no strength left - I just want to lie on the board. We have already established I can’t get up. A rest on the waves sounds so much nicer. But that is against one of the first rules of safety and is not allowed. Our teacher quickly tells me off so I am back in the water again pretending that this sporting effort gives me great pleasure.
Finally, it is time to get out of the water and peel the wetsuits off ourselves with great difficulty. They get quickly washed with the hose, we say goodbye and see you soon and go up on the hill where Eli, Mary and Aya are waiting. Today Eli isn’t working so we take the opportunity to spend more time together. We wait for Aya to finish playing on the playground while we soak in every warm ray of sunshine. We also don’t miss the beach café which offers us coffee and lunch (or a late breakfast for some), while Aya runs around, rides her bike and plays with Nic.
* * *
My cold is getting worse every day but I won’t be getting any rest as we’re surfing this morning.
Shortly after getting into the water, an alarm breaks the calmness of the morning beach. Every Monday they test the shark alarm. The Australian services observe the coastline daily via helicopters and with the first sight of the animals in closer proximity to the people, a siren goes off in the respective area to give those in the water a chance to evacuate on the sand. Yes, I asked - the alarm is on 3-4 times weekly here. Why do Australians like going to the beach?
This morning we go into the water with green rashies on. But this colour progression doesn’t help my actual capabilities. We catch the waves from the shallows deeper into the ocean but that means that every wave pushes us into the riptide caused by the trenches closer to the beach. It is too deep there for your feet to touch the floor. That makes the constant movement with surfboard an exhausting soul-extraction, demoralising and simply horrible. In a combination with my cold, the lesson becomes more and more tiring and unbearable.
While I am still attempting again and again with great torment to catch a wave, any wave, I notice a dark spot in the water. In the beginning, I am convinced it is just a rock but the rock begins to move. Nic is trying to persuade me I am imagining things until our teacher gets our attention to look at the stingray next to him. The same dark spot I have been observing for a while. I told you so! Okay fine, I will not be coming here for the sharks, but for the stingrays, I might make an exception.
Recharged by the euphoria of the ocean fauna, I manage to get up on the board for about a quarter of a second. Unbelievable, but a fact! And that’s as far as I go with today’s accomplishments. The lesson isn’t yet over but we’ve been in the water an hour and a half already. Okay, I’ve had enough and I am going out to lay on the sand and wait for the other wanna-be-surfers to realise how tired they are. I personally feel sick of exhaustion and can’t imagine having to paddle myself out of the ocean riptide one more time. Surfing requires a physical effort that I can only compare to skiing. But when skiing, you have a 30-minute break on the lift after every run down. Here, it is non-stop for two hours. You are either fighting the waves to overcome them or trying to work with them to push you to the shore. There is no middle ground.
These, of course, are my battles. Nic manages to use this lesson to better his technique but who finds it interesting to read about surfers that aren’t struggling. I am giving you my struggles and endeavours - an opportunity to laugh. Regardless, there is something in common between the two of us - after these efforts, we are both starving mad so we wait for the burger shop to open for lunch to satisfy our cravings.
* * *
Today we squeeze into the blue rashies, but the lesson goes like all the others. Nic manages perfectly well, while I am fighting for my life. Once again I am struggling with the waves, there are trenches by the shore and the paddling is endless. Fortunately for me, our teacher takes us into the sand in the middle of the lesson so we can recall on the dry what the four steps of surfing are. For me, that is simply a well-needed break. (I don’t think I will ever understand why surfers call it going out when they get into the ocean and going in when they get back out on the sand. Surfers, you might be mistaken!)
During the theory instruction in the first lesson, we were told about “barbecue waves”. It is clear that not even for the best surfers every wave is caught and well executed. And that is exactly why a surfer chooses one or two waves that they master; they tell everyone about them in a backyard barbecue. The storyteller, of course, massively exaggerates every aspect of those waves over time. This time, Nic gets a few BBQ waves which today he might tell you were three meters high and he was on the surf for a minute or two.
Meanwhile, I continue to paddle with no end. My exaggeration would only be about my endless struggles. It is decided - I am only good at sports where only I am required and no other equipment - running, swimming, yoga, dancing. The moment I have to add something, my coordination drops off completely … tennis, volleyball, surfing … Although, my skiing isn’t all that bad …
Finally, we get out of the water and this time we won’t risk it. We need pictures with the full equipment. Surfing might be a lost cause for me but a picture in a wetsuit with a board makes me a pro, right?!
* * *
Last day in Perth and the last surf lesson. I can’t wait to never have to get on a surfboard ever again. There is nothing new to describe my time in the water today, other than to say that I have given up. I paddle and fall off the surf again and again, just so that others can’t say I’m not even trying. But actually, in my soul, I have no intention to waste my energy. It is clear that things aren’t working out for me, primarily because I have no will for it. Someone else will become a surfer instead of me. Like Nic, for example. Today they even bestow on him the responsibility of a hard surfboard. So far we’ve been only using the “beginner’s” ones, but today Nic is a real surfer.
I am glad we tried this sport. Now I can happily tick it off the list and never go near again.
After our afternoon rest, Eli carefully prepares a picnic for our upcoming boat experience - a wedding present from them. The tour includes light catering but we aren’t sure whether there will be anything vegan so she sends us off prepared. We are going on a sunset sail.
The boat leaves from the pier by Freo’s ‘Little Creatures’ brewery. We are welcomed with a glass of prosecco on board and we set off - five couples and three crew members. Before the views of the sunset, the tour isn’t all that special. But for me, this is the first ocean sailing and for Nic the first one ever.
Walking on the deck isn’t easy at all so we position ourselves sitting down in the front - we don’t want to unnecessarily fall over-board. But shortly after getting out to open water our nice spot with a view is quickly confiscated by the waves that are trying very hard to join the travellers. With a careful stagger, we move towards the stern.
And just as we settle in the dry at the back a small dolphin pod appears by the front. In typical dolphin fashion, they start jumping and racing with the boat. Well, for that I will risk my life by running on the insecure deck with a big camera in my hands. By now it should be clear that Nic and I would risk a lot to be close to local fauna and even more to get photographic proof. We receive it all just before the dolphins decide to leave us to sail on our own.
The sunset is picture-worthy just as we get back into the harbour. The sun is in a perfect position for golden-red pictures and the camera clicking is endless. Most compositions are with the silhouette of the industrial zone - a sunset with character and a story.
I will spare you the unpleasant stories of seasickness by just informing you that by the time we get off the boat we are both dizzy and pale. It was worth it!
ONE MORE GODMOTHER
Since our first date in 2013, Nic and I have been finding similarities between the Sims and the Kolarovi families. If we had looked for each other with an official competition it would not have been this fitting. With a quick look, you can find in both families maths teachers, architects, guitarist and philosopher. With a bit more time you would see related characters, similar relationships and comparable friendships.
Even arriving in Australia, the mirrored coincidences aren’t lost. Because other than my own godmother exactly in Perth lives another one. Shirley Hammond is the godmother of my mother-in-law Victoria. In the 60s the family moved here from England and have been living here happily in an endless exploration of the continent by land and water. Both of Shirley’s daughter’s Frances and Julie currently live in Perth too.
So we can spend enough time with Shirley and free the Kovachevi of our constant presence, we spend with her the last three days of our three-week Perth adventures. After long heartfelt goodbyes with our first hosts, we have a long drive to Shirley’s - whole 15 minutes.
She lives in a retirement complex in a bungalow with her little dog Alfie. Shirley tells us the story of how she bought this house without telling her daughters that she is even looking and how despite her plans she sold the big house a few hours after buying this one. This is what I call a fierce lady!
Due to the great distances, our English family hasn’t seen their Australian friends in a long time. Thus, Nic and I have been given the responsibility to represent the family and not to embarrass ourselves (too much). We spend the evening in conversation about travels around Australia - hers and ours. From anyone that we’ve met until now, they are probably the only ones that have travelled the continent more than us. There is definitely something to be learned from her stories.
Tonight we have been invited to dinner with the whole family or more exact those that are currently in Perth and not working all over the country. With great attention, they choose a restaurant suitable for Nic and me and the coincidences continue as they take us to the same place in Fremantle where we had lunch with Eli on our first day. Frances comes to pick us up, although Alfie is completely against the idea of Shirley leaving. It’s not fair for him to be left alone at home while she is out having fun! We meet Julie and her husband Rod at the restaurant. As far as I am aware, we are only missing their son to complete the family.
Nic and I are amazed at how much each member of this family has travelled by land or water on Australian territory. In a car, a train, a sailboat … I don’t think that for them there is an inch of uncovered land. So the whole conversation revolves around travelling. And because of our latest experiences, they get the craving to set off again. We are drawn into adventure talk and before we know it is time to say goodbye. We have all had a long day and can’t wait to get into bed. The entire evening goes by so well and so quickly that I completely forget to ask for a picture of all of us for the family archives. For that, I am officially apologising to all mothers and grandmothers that will be affected by this oversight. But this is another reason to encourage the Australians to come to visit their place of birth very soon.
For us, it was a pleasure …
* * *
SMALL SWEET QUOKKAS
Rottnest, we are coming! But first, let’s find a place to park. And let’s stand in the correct ferry ticket queue (which are quite expensive), and then let’s buy them for the correct time and finally, let’s hope we can get on the ferry we want, not the one we have tickets for. We’re on the ferry - and it is full, hardly any spaces left. But it doesn’t matter because we’re going regardless and nothing can ruin this experience. Rottnest Island, Rotto for the locals, is on our dream list of places to visit since before we even finalised the plans for the trip. It isn’t big at all - it has a circumference of 14 km and a total area of 19 sq. km. What is there to be seen then, you probably ask yourselves. I have one answer - quokkas.
The quokka is a type of marsupial from the kangaroo family. It isn’t just endemic to Australia but can hardly be found anywhere else other than this island. The quokkas are roughly the size of a house cat. They have fairly short brown hair and are some of the friendliest and unafraid wild animals on the planet. With their small, cute faces, they willingly come close to people or just stand next to them undisturbed. Here on Rotto, the quokkas have no predators - no animals live here that can endanger their existence. Whether they have become so trusting because of this lack of danger or they have only survived here despite their friendliness, I don’t know. But I know that they are incredibly cute little animals!
There are two ways to go around Rottnest - you can either hire bikes, which was our initial idea, or you can hop on a bus, which was the advised option. As soon as we get off the ferry we buy the tickets and set off to circle the settlement. We haven’t yet reached the centre and we see our first quokka. It is sitting by a wall and relaxing just waiting for somebody to take pictures of it!
The settlement isn’t big at all so it doesn’t take us time before we hop on the bus. There are 19 stops on the island - you can get off at any of them and the next bus will pick you up again in 15 minutes or so to take you onwards. Or maybe the one after … whenever you are ready.
We leave and immediately wonderful views open up in front of our eyes. We first get off at a stop with a view of the beach, the reef and the blue water. But there is nothing more important here than the quokka under the bench. Not long ago an Instagrammer became world-famous because of his quokka selfies on the island, and maybe it is because of him that I am here today. But it is not just me either - quokka selfies are a real activity on the island, and everyone is trying to get the most wonderful picture with these lovely marsupials. We won’t miss the opportunity either!
Instead of waiting for the next bus, we decide to walk to the next stop and observe the ocean from different angles. And we manage it well. Not only is the water bluer than ever but the shallows are filled with cliffs, rocks and boats. This collection of elements is so unique that you can’t confuse the location if you are looking at pictures. It is clearly Rotto.
At the next stop, the bus is full, and the group of six in front of us can’t get on, but the driver is more than happy to take two people - that’s us. I am so glad we chose the bus option instead of the bikes. The day is extremely hot. I still have no hat - Nic took mine when he lost his. And we have definitely not put on any sun cream yet.
We get off at the West End of the island where everyone has promised us to see seals. The promises come true. Although they are not very close to us, a few are swimming in the water under us, and others are scratching on the sea cliffs. They are much bigger than I expected. Not that I haven’t seen seals in zoos, but in their natural habitat they somehow look bigger and more importantly happier! And the cliff and waves around us are offering all sorts of opportunities for masterpiece pictures - all nuances of blue and white in the water and the sky, of the grey and brown in the cliffs and of the green in the moss - from ten thousand pictures of our trip, this one is one of my most favourite ones.
Of course, when we return to the stop it turns out we have lost our bus tickets. I knew my idea for the tickets to be in the form of bracelets is better. We pretend we don’t know what is going on and go on the bus in between all other tourists. Phew, the driver didn’t check tickets.
We return to the settlement for the restaurants and even more for the quokkas. They should technically sleep during the day. And technically we, the people, aren’t allowed to touch them. And technically we shouldn’t feed them either. But none of those seems to be true. The animals are completely irresistibly cute and at the same time completely calm. They come to you with their charming eyes and no threats for fines can stop you from petting them or handing them a piece of apple. We even see a girl in desperate attempts to save her lunch from a quokka. The fluff-ball has positioned itself on the table opposite her and at one point even jumps into her lap trying to get to the fresh avocado in her hands. Another one is so happy with me stroking him under the chin that it continuously pushes into my hands. But the quokka stories can continue forever as there is so many of them. Scattered all over the settlement - on paths, in the bushes, under trees or tables, alone or in groups.
The rest of the afternoon we spend on the beach, surrounded by children and quokkas. The water is cold but the courage to get in is worth it with the heat of the air. We stay in the shade and hide bananas from our marsupial observer. Oh, how we don’t want to go yet. Thankfully, we got tickets for the later ferry going back. Enough for a quick gin and tonic. Rottnest Island is another unbelievable island experience to add to our Australian collection. But neither the koalas on Magnetic Island, not the dingos on K’gari island can be compared to the quokkas on Rotto. If you get to Perth, don’t miss out on Rottnest!
PERTH, WE THANK YOU!
Last day in Perth! Last morning under a family roof. Last surf lesson. Last goodbye with Shirley. Last lunch with Mary and Eli and quick exchange of Christmas presents. A last city food shop.
Tonight we choose a free camp so we don’t have to travel too far plus we’ve had enough luxury over the last three weeks. Opening up the tent turns out to be a difficult task - we’ve forgotten how the well-oiled machine works. I am a bit annoyed that we need to get back to this place. I wish we could be on the more secure one. But I breathe deep and get back into gear.
So far we’ve always said that once we leave Perth the “return” to Sydney will begin. So now we are on our way back; home.
Thank you, Perth, for everything you have given us! Peace and quiet, a family, adventures, golden stories, jumping dolphins, small princesses, grown-up youngsters, mekitsi, pastry, pancakes, purple memories, exhausting waves, far meetings, endless happiness …
Farewell and see you soon!
Vassya (and Nic)