(...or "Apparently There's An Ocean Here...Somewhere...")
22.06.2017 - 24.06.2017 30 °C
===Part III: North by Northwest===
My alarm is the sound of ocean waves, followed shortly by the distant rumble of large mining vehicles. Distant, but not enough. The ground-shaking turbulence melds with the waves, recreating the sound moments before a tsunami wipes us all away.
This bleak comparison that does not reflect just how peaceful these moments are just before the sun rises over the far east reaches of sand. Standing on the beach waiting for the main event, the oncoming of which is preluded with a lavender aura across the ocean. I wade into the tip of the gentle waves. The Indian Ocean is not as warm as I remember, but still consoling.
The Eighty Mile Beach caravan park is one of the nicer I've been to. It is still a caravan park, quite packed, not very private, and definitely does not compare with a clearing on the side of an abandoned road somewhere between nowhere and anywhere, but I don't regret coming. I feel recharged already, and I haven't even reached in the resort waiting for me in Broome.
Soundtrack: Near Fantastica by Matthew Good.
The drive just under 400 kilometres to Broome from Eighty Mile Beach is only moderately less eventful than the countryside I travel through. The panorama is mostly flat, but flaunts a beauty that can only be appreciated by experience. Pictures tend to do these areas very little justice.
I arrive in the Broome town centre at noon in a cloudless thirty-degrees, the air seems uncharacteristically dry and missing that oppressive humidity I remember. I park downtown and look for the classic Roebuck Bay Hotel for lunch. When I find it, I'm somewhat surprised to find a reasonably modern building with varying levels of accommodation and a fairly generic bar - I believed it to be a heritage building of sorts. Regardless, I call in for a beer and some lunch before heading off to Cable Beach to find the Bali Hai Resort and Spa.
With a simple polite request, I'm pleasantly surprised to be given a room upgrade to the deluxe villa accommodation free of charge. The room is spectacular, and really wasted on just me.
I'd love to entertain you with the wonderful and/or quirky and/or embarrassing things I did in Broome this afternoon. There were no such things. I hole up, attend to a metric tonne of laundry, relax, write, read, and do nothing. I don't regret a moment of it.
Dinner is at the local tavern where crowds of people have gathered to watch a football game. If we as Canadians are perhaps a bit snooty when characterizing our ice hockey as fast paced non-stop action - particularly when comparing it to American football, soccer, or even basketball (and *especially* baseball) - I suggest we take note of Australian Football. I get exhausted watching what these men perform in the span of thirty seconds. I wish I knew the rules, because it looks like a sport I might get behind. If the boisterous swarm around me is any indication, it must be incredibly exciting.
As I hinted at, my room is over-qualified to house 2017 Outback Steve. A Balinese-themed villa with lush tropical greenery, soft coloured lights, fountains, and a statue guarding the entrance.
And just outside, I have my own Pazuzu (or whatever it is) keeping me safe - hopefully.
The next morning is bright and comfortably warm as I trudge into town after dropping off the truck at the repair shop. They appeared very optimistic I can pick it up later today. If true, this is comforting news.
I explore the entire downtown area, even ducking into the numerous pearl shops - this is one of the big draws for Broome, aside from (or more accurately coinciding with) the local tourism. I am blissfully ignorant about pearls, but I enjoy admiring the exquisite designs and very expensive pieces, occasionally engaging with the proprietors - who very quickly ascertain that I am not in the market for a $20,000 necklace - but chat with me anyway.
Arriving back at Cable Beach on the bus I finally view the ocean and have lunch at Zanders - a restaurant boasting both an idealistic location perched above the beach and much a less than reputable review score on Google. The service, food, and view are all splendid just the same.
The truck is done by 3pm as the repair shop promised and everything seems back on track. After missing the sunset at Cable Beach for the second night in a row I dine at the restaurant at the resort, a cafe that holds itself in fairly high esteem, requiring prior reservations ("bookings essential"). It was good but I'm not convinced it was entirely worthy of the purported reputation.
I spend the following morning exploring the 'Courthouse Markets' - a collection of local artisans, businesses and food stands set up at - surprise! - the town courthouse. It keeps my interest for some time, many of the handcrafted curiosities unique and interesting, but nothing really screams to me that I should take on the extra weight and drag it home.
However, I almost buy a plant. I'm not sure exactly what I'm thinking - I suppose I'm thinking that carrying a small plant or flower on my road trip would...I don't know...keep me company? More likely give me another worry when I try to keep it alive - in a pot - for over 5000 kilometres, only to abandon it at the end of the trip. And I haven't, to this day ever in my life, cared for a plant successfully. Thankfully (for the poor plant) the very obscure idea dies out after only a few minutes.
As I make my way back to the truck I pass by an Aboriginal man shuffling down the sidewalk. I greet him with good morning, and he stops and replies "Hey, mishta! Mishta!" I stop, wondering exactly what business we might have, but as a cheery Canadian tourist I give him a moment of my time. "Lemme ashk you sumthin," he says. Like many visibly down-trodden - and the fact he is Aboriginal means nothing - he has been robbed of any visible age; he could be 25 or 55, but the fact is he reeks of cheap beer and it isn't 10:30am yet. "Where you goin'?" he asks me, and I reply that I'm headed to my car. He pauses a moment, and then unexpectedly asks "can I come with you?" Truthfully, and considering this could have been some white person on the street back home, I have to process the request; I expected him to ask for money. I reply, no I'm sorry, you can't come with me, and I wait for the response, not knowing what to expect. He nods, and carries on his way.
I try not to think too much into what just happened, because it would be impossible to figure out whether there was any good way to deal with the situation. Pity could be just as much a detrimental reaction as indifference. All I know is that Broome has a dynamic where the influx of seasonal tourism comes together with a very visible population of disenfranchised Indigenous people, and as much as I want to believe there must be a solution somewhere, it's possible there simply isn't one.
I lunch at a local brewery and then get to work - I have to resupply, fuel the truck and fill the propane canister, but I vow not to miss the sunset at the beach tonight. I walk into the Woolworths near Cable Beach - the same grocery store I experienced a minor panic attack at on my first trip - and as usual shopping takes far longer than I plan or want. After this I fill the truck and ask the attendant where in town I can get a gas bottle (the propane) filled. He answers with two places, but informs me that neither will be open until Monday. And it's Saturday afternoon.
Without LPG, I'll soon be eating sandwiches for dinner and drinking cold coffee since there is nowhere on the Gibb River Road (or between here and there) that services gas bottles.
Did I mention how prepared I am? (Yes, Steve...many times...sigh...) I have a link to a website that shows all the places in any specific location in Australia that provides propane service. After checking out three different spots on the map I find they all have only canister swap service for the large gas bottles that won't work with my stove (without a bunch of adapters and fittings - that I'm sure I could buy...on Monday morning).
I call into the very last station on the list before I resort to visiting all the caravan parks in town to see if they can help. And the sun is already setting. I cannot believe that I am, again, racing the sunset...and I'm not even travelling! How does this happen? If only this were a marketable skill.
At the station, I find a cheery Steve Irwin-ish bloke who very happily tells me he can most certainly fill my bottle, frowning and shaking his head when I tell him what the attendant at the other petrol station told me. He fills my bottle and I'm ready to hit the Gibb River Road.
But I still need to get to the sunset at Cable Beach.
I make it just in time and join the hundreds of other people gathered around to appreciate just what a dazzling display the sunsets here are. I wander down to the waves and walk into the water as the sun ducks down behind the distant horizon.
My thoughts turn to my amazing wife at home, as they have many times already, taking care of our children and living out life as it would be if she had no husband. She would absolutely adore this beach, this sunset, since she is a child of the ocean. I miss her tremendously but I know that no matter where I go I have her with me. We may be tens of thousands of kilometres apart, but we will always be two halves of a whole. No matter what happens that will never change.
(That said...if any of you guys are thinking of taking a run at her while I'm gone, I'll help you out a bit. What really turns her crank is if you offer to clean the garage. And replace the fence in the backyard. Oh, and help finish painting the living room...and go through all my socks and toss out all the ones with holes. Also, build a porch beside the retaining wall in the back. And for God's sake, get those kids and the dog out of the house for a while and give her some time alone. Her heart will be in your hands in no time. You're welcome.)
I have missed my darling this entire trip (fun fact: by the time I get home we will have been apart longer than any other time since be started dating *as teenagers*). But I expected to miss her, so perhaps I was more emotionally prepared this trip and I've managed to stave off the homesickness so far.
But I do feel sad about something. I realize this may be the last time I see (and touch) the Indian Ocean in my life.
Truthfully, I could have been thinking the same thing about everywhere I've been in Australia but I've been focusing on enjoying each individual moment rather than spend time regretting any possible future or wallowing in any past. But perhaps the Indian Ocean is just something so massive and meaningful, I can't ignore the reality of my situation.
I say goodbye to Cable Beach...maybe for good...and spend the rest of the night cleaning up and packing for the second leg of the road trip. Even as I eat again at Diver's Tavern and enjoy the boisterous crowds yelling at the football match, I have that deep pit of remorse that won't quite go away.
But I'm here now and that is what really matters. Enjoy every moment. Appreciate every second life gives you. And never regret anything. And if I ever get the chance, I'll come back here in a heartbeat.
But later in life if I have no heartbeats left to get back to Broome and the Indian Ocean, or to Australia, I'm happy I made it here one last time.
I'll hold on to that.
PS.............and then, it happens.
I've survived getting lost, getting sidetracked, getting stuck, and driving a leaky vehicle. I've travelled through some of the harshest and most unforgiving territory on Earth all alone. But now misfortune finally springs up, grinning with evil malice, and drops on me when I realize in utter horror...
...I've lost a sock.