Western Australia Part 2 – Travel Insanity

I will admit it: I have major travel anxiety. Kind of ironic for someone who loves to travel, I know. Some people get their kicks and eventual endorphin rush from skydiving or whitewater rafting. I get it from learning to navigate the transportation system of parts unknown. There is a heady satisfaction to be found in actually getting where I am supposed to be, at the right time. After that, it’s all gravy.

Perth is the only major airport in the southern part of Western Australia, but I needed to get to Walpole, which is 750km or so south of there. After some research and nail-biting I figured out how to get there via train and bus. My itinerary was as follows: Fly into Perth on Sunday. Bum around there for a few hours. Take the train at 6pm down to Bunbury, about 180km south. On Monday I’d get the bus down to Walpole. Tuesday would be my day to explore Walpole and do the Tree Top Walk. Wednesday morning I’d get the bus back up to Bunbury, and Thursday morning I’d wake up at the godawful hour of 5AM to get the train back to Perth, and fly out in the afternoon.

It was action-packed. But I didn’t know the HALF of it yet.

A few minutes after I booked the tickets online, I got a call from the booking agency – aparently there was going to be track work on that Sunday, so there would be a replacement bus to take people to the suburb of Armadale, where we’d get the train to Bunbury. Sounded all right with me.

After my day of wandering around Perth and then enjoying a glorious, glorious beer in that pub I talked about last time, I set out for the train station. I went a little early – it was about 5:20 when I got there, and the train (read: replacement bus) was supposed to depart at five to six. I located the bus stand, which had “REPLACEMENT FOR TRAINS” written right on it, with Armadale as the destination. Seemed straightforward to me. I had seen these buses earlier in the day as well.

Quite a few of these buses were going through, and there was a decent crowd of folks. I thought it might be more convenient for me to catch one of the earlier ones just to make sure I was there in plenty of time. But just to be absolutely sure I asked the lady who was rounding people up. She actually seemed surprised that I had been intending to wait until the time that the train departed to catch a bus. “Oh yes, you should take this one. There might not even be any more after this.”

So at five thirty I board the bus, 25 minutes early. My sleep-deprived brain is reeling. Why hadn’t they TOLD me to get an earlier bus? It was a good thing that I was anal about this kind of thing, otherwise I might have missed the train.

The bus starts doing its rounds. It gets darker and darker outside. I’m fighting sleep the whole way – buses have that effect on me anyway, for some reason (I just wish planes were the same deal.) I look at my watch and am a little scared to see that it’s already 6:30. Though the bus is constantly referred to as “The Armadale bus,” almost everyone else has gotten off on stops along the way. This is when I start to get worried. Was the bus going to get there in time? Should I have gotten an even EARLIER one? How crazy is that?

When it pulled up at the Armadale train station I was the last person on board. The train was there, so I thought things were fine – until I approached the platform and realized that nobody else was on it. I heard a bell ding. This is when I very judiciously started to RUN.

Luckily some of the operators were still standing outside chatting, but it was obvious that they were just wrapping things up. They were VERY surprised to see me.

“Where are you going?”

“Bunbury.”

The man and the woman look at each other, wide-eyed. “Where did you – how did you get here?”

“By bus.” I point. “From Perth.”

“When did you leave?”

“Five thirty?”

“We have a busload of people who got here fifteen minutes ago. They left at quarter to six.”

That’s right – there had been a SPECIAL REPLACEMENT BUS. Which nobody had bothered to tell me was in any way different from the OTHER buses which were also called replacement buses. And which the lady whom I’d specifically ASKED, for the very reason of routing out that possibility, had obviously not known about.

Left hand, meet right hand.

I have to say, this one was pretty much NOT my fault. My only crime was being there too early, and assuming that an EMPLOYEE whose job that day SPECIFICALLY dealt with “replacement buses” would actually know something about the, y’know, replacement bus.

But I made it, and I got to Bunbury on time. I got a taxi to my hostel with a nice woman who had also just come in on the train. Once I checked in I basically got the key to my room, availed myself of the plumbing, and collapsed into bed. That was at 9pm. I slept until 8am, and it was a beautiful, beautiful thing.

The next day I roused myself, got a shower, and checked out. The wind was WHIPPING and it was spitting rain, which severely impacted my mental image of the town – I remember it, from that day, as a tiny, flat, boring place. Largely this is the fault of the flat grey sky and my inability to look into the distance for any length of time without getting a splat of rain in my eye.

The hostel is only a five minute walk away from the bus station, and is on the same street, so I had a good couple of hours to kill with very little travel anxiety to cope with. I got some breakfast at a place my tour guide recommended and then did a little shopping (I bought some souvenirs and, amazingly, a silver ring for myself – it’s very simple celtic knotwork, which I love. I also am secretly thrilled ANY time a ring fits me, I have pretty big hands.) I exchanged witty banter with a used bookstore owner and eventually decided to buy an anthology of science fiction stories, spanning from the late 1890’s to 1977, when the book was published. It’s hardcover, but still fairly light. I figured it would be the perfect travel book. It was also just five bucks, which for 600 pages of classic sci-fi is, I feel, a great bargain.

It was about four hours on the bus to Walpole, though it was stretched out a little by a half-hour break in a town called Manjimup. I decided to get a snack there, just a hot chocolate and a slice of sticky date pudding with caramel sauce. I’m glad I did – it was the single most delicious thing I have EVER CONSUMED. I had to restrain myself from licking the plate.

I’m not sure what I expected the scenery to be like – it’s hard to imagine foreign terrain. To be honest, it was quite similar to that on the east coast – huge, rolling hills, lots of farms with cows, sheep, and alpacas galore (Ria has now been cued for jealousy. I saw alpacas!) Vineries, too, lots of vineries – they seemed like wine graveyards, since it was just getting into winter, but I’d love to see them again in summer or early fall. One thing I did notice was that the trees were a lot taller, especially as we moved down south.

We got to Walpole, a tiny town with one main street and a number of very idyllic suburban streets filled with little houses with picket fences and beautiful ocean views. I figured out where the hostel was, and went to go drop off my stuff. The lady who was running it was extremely nice.

One problem, though: there had, once upon a time, been a taxi service operated through that hostel. It was the only one in town. This had been my information when I planned the trip. But in March, the man who had run it had died of a heart attack, and his wife – who used to run the hostel – hadn’t wanted to keep doing it. So the owner, Peg, was running it. Of course, the website hadn’t been updated. There was no taxi service. And the tree top walk, which I’d just travelled 750km south of Perth for the sole purpose of visiting, was 20km away – not exactly within walking distance.

Ah, travel anxiety. You always know just when to amp things up, don’t you?

I must have been making puppy eyes when I was talking about it, because Peg said, “Well, we’ll get you up there somehow.” Apparently there was a tour bus that went up there sometimes, but she didn’t think it would be running on a Tuesday. If not, she said, I could get a lift up with her in the morning, but I’d have to find my own way back. I said that that would be WONDERFUL and proceeded to thank her profusely at every opportunity for the rest of my stay.

Travel anxiety: somewhat relieved. But… asking strangers for a lift home? Ye gods, I might actually have to act like a backpacker! Will wonders never cease! I told myself that I could probably manage to walk home, if I had no other recourse. Talk about having incentive to just suck it up and go for it, though – I really, really, really didn’t want to walk 20km on the shoulder of the highway.

It was already about 4:30 in the afternoon and I was warned that things closed down pretty early there, so I went out right away to get a few munchies (and a six pack of “black swan” beer… hey, maybe that’s what those birds I’d seen on Sunday were). On my way back I spotted a cafe that was open until 9pm, so I decided to grab my writing notepad and spend a little time there, just to avoid spending too much time cramped up in the hostel. And this is where things get weird: there I was, four thousand kilometers from home, in the middle of nowhere and effectively “on holiday,” and I started outlining an essay for school. Clearly, I am mad.

It was only 7pm when I walked back to the hostel, but it was so dark and quiet that it could have been 4am. Peg was watching TV in the hostel den, so I joined her for a couple of hours and we watched whatever silly programs happened to be on – a bit of “Home and Away,” which is a pretty big soap here, and a couple of “reality” programs about border patrol and surf rescue. Then I retired to my room to settle in for bed. That night I was the only guest at the ENTIRE hostel, so I had a five-bed dorm all to myself – naturally I went and sat on every bed in order to find the best one. (I’m glad I hadn’t paid extra for a “single” room.)

I sat up for a while and read while I waited for the heater to warm up the chilly room. It started to rain, which sounded really neat on the tin roof. At some point I decided that this was just about the best possible way to spend a vacation: bundled up and warm in a summer cottage, listening to the rain, drinking beer, and reading classic science fiction.

I haven’t enjoyed reading that much in a long while. (I blame the internet. Or me, when enabled by the internet.)

That’s all for now. Tomorrow, I shall regale you with tales about talking to strangers and walking in tree tops. And there will be pictures.

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One Comment on “Western Australia Part 2 – Travel Insanity”

  1. Candice Says:

    this was good to read and the story about the trip to armadale is cringeworthy my god what a stress that must have been. Ive been living in perth for 9 months now.


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