Well I’m a week into my Australian adventure and I have done a lot of awesome things. Reading that sentence back to myself it seems utterly inadequate at capturing just how incredible my journey has been. Western Australia is a beautiful, beautiful place and I have managed to see just a fraction of that beauty.
So where have I been, what have I done? After a long drive up from Perth to Jurien Bay, I met up with my friend and made a few new friends. A quick swim in the bay’s crystal clear water, a chilled out barbecue, and then I grabbed some well deserved sleep. But the next day… Oh the next day…
The next day was packed full of unforgettable experiences. First thing I did was get harnessed up, sat in a plane as it ascended to 14,000 feet… and then jumped out.
The experience of skydiving is completely surreal. You can see the ground below you but it just looks like scenery (and what incredible scenery it was), like a painted backdrop. It’s very gradually getting closer, but it’s almost unnoticeable. The air is cold and the wind is loud, which almost creates a sense of sensory deprivation, driving all your instincts to focus on visuals – even your sense of balance is completely different to normal. I’m sure experienced skydivers have honed these senses in order to pull of their synchronised displays.
And on the subject of synchronised displays, we pulled one off ourselves. My friends in Jurien are all experienced skydivers, and they wanted to try something special on this jump. So the four of us linked up in order to perform a head down exit – literally our heads pointing down at the ground as we hit freefall. I’m told this was a very difficult thing to maintain, but maintain it we did, which meant the jump was special not just for me, but for my friends too.
Having (sort of) mastered the air, I decided it was time to walk on water. Not literally of course. We took some paddle boards (like big unwieldy surfboards which you stand up on and propel yourself forward with a paddle) and headed down the coast. It was around this point that my sun block failed me and I got burnt pretty bad on my shoulders. But hey ho.
After lunch we went out on a friend’s boat. My friends were scuba diving, but me having no training or gear decided to stay on the boat and just appreciate the view. After half an hour the guys decided that the swell was too big and the diving was abandoned, but we took the boat out to a small island with a sea lion colony.
To my amazement, the sea lions were inquisitive, friendly and playful, and two of them swam it to meet us. It was an amazing experience, the sea lions racing and dancing around us, almost as if they were egging us on. They copied what we did but with infinitely more grace. I did a flip, they did a flip. I did a barrel roll, they did a barrel roll. Once I swam to the bottom and my snorkel released a few bubbles… So of course, the sea lions swam to the bottom and started blowing their own bubbles. They were some of the most adorable animals I’ve ever seen, and being welcomed into their environment by them was an honour I can’t describe.
So here I was, king of the sky, king of the sea… All that was left to conquer was the land. The next day we took a 4×4 out across some pretty rough tracks in order to find a cave system. We loaded up with head torches and descended into the bowels of the earth.
This was a cave system entirely dissimilar to the ones I’ve seen back home in the UK. The climate is much more arid here, so the huge stalagmites and stalactites you might expect to see formed by water deposits over thousands of years were absent. We did see an owl though! And a very hungry looking frog.
Some way into the cave, we reached a large cavern, but noticed a very tight crawlspace leading deeper in. Throwing caution to the wind, we headed along it, scraping our shins in the process, but we arrived in a larger chamber which led even deeper into the earth. Eventually we reached a point beyond which we couldn’t continue, so turned out torches off and sat in the utter darkness for a while.
After spending Christmas in Jurien Bay, I bid my friends goodbye and headed to the airport. I’m currently sat in a hostel in Alice Springs, waiting for the 4×4 which will take me into the desert for my 3 day hike to explore Uluru.
Begin phase two…
There is a computer game which you may have heard of, if not played, called “The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion”. The game is a fantasy role-playing game set in a landscape which is not too dissimilar to Europe (in the sense that the game has trees and mountains and rivers, not in the sense that Europe is crawling with goblins, trolls and other unspeakable monsters). The game mechanics are largely tangential to this blog post, but it does have a feature called “fast-travel”. Basically, you can call up a map and click on a location you have already visited, and the game will take you there regardless of your current location, and adjust the time accordingly.
Now, one of the great features of the game is the way the landscape has been mapped out. There are rolling forests with believable positioning of trees, as well as the aforementioned rivers and mountains. A big part of the game is adventure and exploration. Occasionally you may come across a path which leads into the trees, and you think to yourself, I’ll follow this path and see where it leads. I mean, it could lead to treasure, or an undiscovered ruin, or an encounter with some local miscreants, but regardless, it is sure to be an exhilarating experience. And so you follow the path.
After a while, you may often find that the path just sort of ends. It becomes overgrown, less well defined. You continue anyway, as you think that it must have been leading somewhere and you think you can tell where it would go if it hadn’t vanished. And so you keep trekking through tall grass and trees, scrub and under-brush. After a while however, you realise that the path is genuinely going nowhere, so you decide to head back to town. Unfortunately, you’ve been wandering around in the wilderness for so long that you have absolutely no idea where you are, nor and clue how to get back to the path you originally followed to bring you to this point.
Never mind though, right, as you have fast-travel. Pop up that map, and click click, back in town you find yourself. It might be dark, but it was no hassle getting there.
Now, there are a number of woods near my home, with a number of streams therein, flowing into the river Avon which cuts through the landscape hereabouts. The woods look beautiful this time of year, and it was a gorgeous morning, so I decided to go for a run and explore the area around my new home. I found a path which led from close by my house into the woods, and ran along it. After a while it branched, with a large path heading up towards the road and a smaller path leading beneath the overpass and into the woods beyond. Guess which one I followed.
After a while the path became overgrown with long grass and nettles, but I could sort of make out the direction it was leading me in, so I carried on following it. The landscape was breathtaking, and it had been a while since I had been on an adventure. Ever onwards I charged, into the Lime trees that skirted the Avon.
Eventually, the path completely vanished. The nettles were waist high, and I had no idea where I was heading. Never mind, I thought, I’ll just head back the way I came. You can guess where this is heading, right? As I turned round, I realised that I had been traipsing through the wilderness for so long, I was completely disoriented, and there was no sign of the route that I had taken to get here.
But It’s OK, because I can just fast-travel… Oh wait. You can’t do that in real life, can you? Huh.
And so I made the decision to persevere through the nettles. On and on I pushed, legs screaming angrily from the welts which were appearing all over my shins. Eventually the venomous assault of the plants abated, and I climbed a small ridge which threw me out next to the road. I was a long way from home, but I knew where I was. What’s more, I had begun to mentally map out a nice morning cross-country training route. Better than any gym membership, for sure.
I took a more leisurely walk back through town, interspersed with a few bouts of faster running. Eventually I arrived home and collapsed into the welcoming arms of a tepid shower.
I think I like living here.