Sunday, August 22, 2010

In Which We Get Rained On

When we woke up, it was raining sideways.

I believe this kind of rain in coastal regions, especially in isolated bits of Western Australia that no one really thinks about much, is referred to as a "gale". If anything could qualify as a gale, it would have been what we saw clattering outside the walls of our rent-a-cottage. This, needless to say, bode poorly for our planned day of vigorous outdoors activities. As it turns out, there is in fact just about jack all to do in Kalbarri when it is raining sideways outside. But we didn't know that just yet, and were feeling vibrant and optimistic regardless.

We stopped at a nearby beach to look at the water, which could only really be described as "severely pissed off". I am not in the camp that believes in a deeply woo-woo fashion that water can transmit (or care about) the emotions of humanity, but after regarding that water for a while, I was willing to entertain the possibility that it can get *mad*. Anyone who went out in that mess, be it in a boat, a ferry, or on a surfboard, could only be described as clinically insane. But this is the Australian psyche we're discussing here, and we would indeed see a couple of dogged mental patients waiting on wave after wave that never actually came.

We proceeded down the track into the national park, which was also soggy, although the rain had at least reduced itself to "morose drizzle" status. A sign on the way in informed us that the road to Nature's Window, Kalbarri's most iconic site, was closed and would be until the soil dried out and it was rendered safe for vehicular use again, which would doubtless be a while. Hiking was also right out. I spent a few of my tween and teenage years quite ardently engaged in outdoors sports in rocky, gorge infested regions like this one, and Lesson Numero Uno in that department is "If it is pissing down rain, don't go hiking in a slippery, flash-flood prone gorge." So we didn't do that either.

What we did do was batten down the hatches and go and politely observe the open overlooks. These were, thankfully, given a bit of an atmospheric boost by the lingering mist in the air and the crystal-clear droplets hanging from the pines and shrubs nearby. It was in fact quite pleasant, and I wished the weather was good enough to allow me to do some really soul-satisfying scrambling around on the nearby boulders.

Here, have an interpretative sign. Or two.

I left Lyn to read a nearby sign and scrambled tentatively down the walking path, where I encountered a couple of elderly Australian ladies down a flight of stairs. "You're not here alone, are you?" one asked carefully, and I assured her I was not.

(Elderly women in foreign countries, and in fact, everywhere, are eternally very concerned about me. This may be attributed to the fact that I am small, blonde, and distinctly waifish looking, which seems to set off their internal little old lady concern mechanisms with roaring intensity. When I am in places like India and China, elderly women often seize me sternly by the arm and walk me across busy streets, which is among the more humiliating experiences known to a young person in possession of full mental and physical faculties. But enough about me).

They walked up and began chatting with Lyn, and I soon joined them. They were pointing at a group of people in brightly-colored windbreakers, standing in the gorge below us. "We're in that tourist group, but we thought better of scrambling over the river," one said. "Didn't seem like a good idea.

"Oh, lovely," I said. "Where are you from?"

"Well, we're from Melbourne. The tour is all right, but we hadn't known that it would be all young people, when we booked it."

"Yes, quite young people, university types. They were out until five in the morning last night, at the pub. Don't know how they're managing the hike."

"They all looked like hell this morning. Like a truck had hit them. I don't know how they're managing at all."

They grew thoughtful and silent, and Lyn and I looked at them with abject horror and pity.

Consider it. You are a nice old thing from Melbourne who has decided to take a lovely packaged tour up the Western Australian coast. You find a nice looking outfit, and perhaps not being among the most internet savvy of creatures, fail to notice that it caters to a younger crowd, shall we say, in fact the kind of crowd that enjoys things like beer pong, ironic t-shirts, and getting tattoos on their asses. You get on the bus and realize that you have about 50 years on everyone else, including the guide and the driver, and you have already paid up and got someone to watch your Lhasa Apso, and you are just going to have make the best of it, horrible rock-rap music on the bus speakers and technicolored 6:00 AM barf in the hotel corridors and all. Which these commendable women were obviously trying their very best to do. I hope they made it back to Melbourne alive, that's all.

The other thing to consider is that these Young People were out until five in the morning in Kalbarri which boasts, as I perhaps previously mentioned, just about two pubs, one of which is the avowed territory of the Old Bastards club. Logic indicates that kids may be among the most incredibly persistent drinkers on earth. Either that, or I made a gigantic tactical error in going to bed at 9:30 instead of slipping out to Get Down with the spry and winsome residents of Kalbarri. Huh, hmm.

Stand of gum trees in the gorge.

As Lyn and I considered the horror of our companions position, we noticed three kangaroos bouncing majestically through the mist, along the floor of the canyon. "Seeing kangaroos never gets old," I commented, and everyone nodded in agreement.

"Looks like our group is coming back," one of the old ladies said, a bit depressively. "And there's John. Always has to be up front, that one." The windbreakers were now moving towards us.

"Oh man, I think the rain is picking up," I said. "We'd better move along. Lovely to meet you two." We beat a swift retreat to the car.

Well, that accounted for the national park, at least in these conditions. The rain showed no sign whatsoever of letting up, so we decided that it was high time to make for Kalbarri's sole indoor attraction of note. "Let's go see ourselves a sullen and wet parrot or two," Lyn said. There may have been a bit of an edge in her voice.

The Rainbow Jungle proclaims itself to be the top parrot-breeding outfit in WA, which it probably is. It's a nice enough place, featuring a series of semi enclosed gardens and grounds with a dizzying array of parrots. It is probably even nicer when it is not raining a whole lot.

When it rains a whole lot, most parrot varieties do indeed get wet and sullen. They huddle up on their branches and lurk in their little parrot-houses and do not engage in any charming, cheeky, or talkative behavior. Instead they glare at you and suggest with their little parrot faces that you should fuck right off and leave them alone, instead of peering at them through the slats and hopefully saying "Hello, hello!" We ignored them because, well, they're parrots.

Some of the parrots do not respond in this way to weather. Some, like the Australian white cockatoo, see you coming and immediately climb enterprisingly down the wire of their cage, offering you their white and plush looking head, begging you with watery eyes to please please please pet me, just a little pet, a stroke, a fondle, a nudge?

This would be a horrible mistake because white cockatoos (like many kinds of parrot) consider human fingers a delicacy on par with Beluga caviar. Signs indicating this were plastered in obvious places all over the Rainbow Jungle, but I am entirely certain more parrot bite wounds then I am capable of imagining occur there every year, exclusively to the very stupid. This makes me happy. "Fuck you parrot," I said, merrily, as I stood just out of reach. "I know what you're up to."

Outwitting small, reasonably innocuous animals always makes me feel great.

Some lovely multicolored parrots. Don't ask me what kind. Australia has roughly a zillion different kinds of Lovely Colorful Parrot and it would take either an ornithologist or a dedicated dork to tell them apart. Being dedicated, I will doubtless sit down with a bird book and figure this out soon. But not today. Don't judge me.

The iconic Aussie Princess Parrot. Even more striking when they fly above you - incredible looking tail feathers.

Red tailed black cockatoos, regarding us with unnerving intelligence. (Parrots are weird). They're called "cockies" in Australia. Everything in Australian must have an "ie" or a "o" added to it. It's a law. Brekkie, Freo, saltie, surfy, bikie, Rotto, on and on and on.

This sign regarding Eurypterids (ie, GIANT ANCIENT SCORPIONS) made me unreasonably happy .


Adorable lorikeet is adorable.

Just mentally add in "nom nom nom" sounds and this photo becomes twelve times better.

He's out there. And he's nuts.

The Rainbow Jungle features a nicely sized observation platform, ostensibly for whales. No whales out today insofar as we could tell, but there was one mentally ill surfer out there in the cold, sideways rain, and churning ocean. Lyn was fascinated, and we watched him reject wave after wave for about twenty minutes. You'd think one wouldn't be too picky about waves in this weather, but I guess not.

We went to the Gilgai Tavern for lunch, mainly because it seemed to be the only mid range eatery in town that was not a Fried Counter. A Fried Counter is an Australian eatery devoted entirely to deep fried things, of various makes, colors, and freshness levels. They are almost exclusively take out joints staffed by powerful looking middle aged women. They cater to an optimistic idea of good, picnic supporting weather, which we obviously did not have, and eating deep fried and soggy fish in the car didn't appeal to us much. So off to The Pub we went.

The pub was totally characterless in the way of many such Australian ventures, but at least the counter lady was nice and the menu featured a dizzying array of non-deep fried items. I ordered an entirely respectable flat white coffee and watched a violent American movie on the screen in front of me. I then consumed an entirely respectable grilled grouper, served with an equally respectable salad. Everything at the pub was entirely respectable. This couldn't be where those kids in the group had partied last night, could it have been? (There is another pub in Kalbarri which attempts to look rough and ready and outback-tough, or at least more so then this joint. That must have been the place).

After lunch, we went to the visitor's center. This was partially a hopeful but obviously doomed attempt to see if any sort of tour or touristic enterprise was running (the rain HAD reduced itself to a mere chilly drizzle). I also had decided that I needed a cuddly plush whale shark in my life, and the visitor's center just so happened to sell them. "So are the sunset boat tours running this evening?" Lyn asked the counter woman. The boat ran up the lovely Murchison River Gorge in the limpid cool of the evening, and featured a full audio tour, plush seats, and most pleasantly, a licensed bar. We had tried to book the boat tour the night before, which wasn't running then either.. "They don't want to run it, in this weather," the man had said. "They took some folks out this morning on one of the charters. Insisted they could handle the waves. Ended up barfing all over the boat. Quite a horror, eh?" (Jocular Australian downplay of loathsome events = check).

"Oh, God, no, it's not running." the woman said. "There isn't much going in Kalbarri in bad weather, I'm afraid."
"We gathered," Lyn said.
"Have you tried the Rainbow Jungle?" she said, hopefully.
"Yes," Lyn said. "We sure have."
"Lots of neat looking parrots," I said, trying to be positive. "Wet parrots." I selected a particularly personable looking whale shark from the bin.
"Oh, well, then," the woman said. She rang up my whale shark. We retreated. We had successfully exhausted every single source of rainy day entertainment in Kalbarri. Point, set, match.

We headed back to the cottage, to read and consider the seashell art. There was so much seashell art. I am going to see it in my dreams. (Lyn is an art history major and seemed to find the art actively offensive, as if someone was kicking her in the shin whenever she looked at it. I mostly just found it *hilarious*.)


Dinner was at the Black Rock Cafe again. This was because the other upscale restaurant in town was closed, and the other options included aforementioned fry counters, the Hotel Pub (now teeming with randy construction workers at this hour) and something forbiddingly called Finlay's Fish BBQ. The choice was easy.

The restaurant was even more packed then the night before, as Kalbarri's entire holiday population seems to have come to same conclusion we had. I chose the local tiger prawns with scallops and mashed potatoes in a butter sauce. Extremely good, and the seafood was obviously freshly caught and local - the intense taste of Aussie prawns is something well worth experiencing. I also enjoyed the roe on scallops. Why aren't those more common in the states?

Lyn chose the grilled snapper with mash and veg. She said it was good, although a tad overcooked. This seem to be common affliction in Australian restaurants.

An Asian man wearing a windbreaker wandered by the restaurant windows a few times. He was soaked, cheerful looking, and eating a sandwich, and he waved when he saw Lyn. "Do you know that guy?" I asked her.

"I've seen him around everywhere today," she said, waving back. That must have been one wet sandwich.

We shared an excellent fruit salad with ice cream, then headed out into the night and back to our cottage again.

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