Thursday, October 06, 2016

Escape to Broome – and a warm welcome

There was a very elusive orange and green parrot in this tree that defied all attempts to photograph it

With the girls going away for part of the school holidays I was in two minds (or possibly three or four) as to whether to sleep for four days, watch back -to -back videos or just escape somewhere, almost anywhere,  instead. 
Broome happened to be one of those places so far off the beaten track that I had never managed to get there before. Thinking it might be a while before I got even this close again  - a mere 2200 km away, I booked a flight, with just the teensiest regret that it cost almost as much as a trip to say, San Francisco, Azerbaijan or one of those other more distant places I hadn't been to either. Four days were simply not enough!

The scent of tropical vegetation fills the air

One of many colourful plants whose names I don't know
 Perth has had one of its coldest, wettest winters on record and is still having it, so the heat when I stepped off the plane  -around 36°C or so, hit me like a wall. The dress code sign at the airport says it all – footwear must be worn at all times. Some people were taking that very literally and wearing little else, while I rummaged around in my suitcase for something which would make me feel less like a broiled chicken.
Rain had apparently been promised for the past few days, but only a few drops had fallen so far, leaving behind thick grey clouds and the sort of humidity that envelopes you like cling wrap. By rights given the salt pans and desolate scrub we had been flying over for hours, there should be nothing here, but various kinds of  exotic plants -palms, hibiscus, mangoes and frangipani, lined the roadsides and scented the air. I found out later that this miracle was only possible in this land of low growing scrub and mangroves, because of a large aquifer on one of the nearby stations. Resorts are tucked discreetly behind walls of greenery and there are few houses to be seen.

This is what the countryside looks like in the 'dry' where there's no water - there are only two seasons
It was dark by the time I arrived at the hostel. It was abuzz with lights, music and the sound of many people speaking in different languages. I could hear German at one table, French and Spanish at another, a  sprinkling of English, Irish, American, Canadian and  Kiwi  accents among the Aussies, along with many others which I couldn't immediately recognise -  a veritable United Nations. As someone was to remark later in the evening, “If everyone had to stay in hostels for a while there couldn’t be any wars, because everyone would be friends.”  I couldn’t agree more.  Hostel life has a way of making you more tolerant and only once in all the years I have been travelling, have I found being older a drawback. 

Hammocks in the Courtyard

 Here the bar was doing a roaring trade and the pool looked inviting, but there wasn’t a skerrik of food. No, I tell a lie. Tantalising smells were emanating from the communal kitchen, but there was nothing to buy or cook with. I had rather hoped to treat myself to a meal on the two -and -a half hour flight, but on flights of less than three hours in the small Fokker, no meals were carried. The much vaunted snack on offer turned out to be two three centimetre oatmeal cookies and on the way here all the shops and the service station had been closed. The town proper was an unknown distance away in the darkness with no guarantees that anything would be open there either. I hadn't eaten since breakfast and now I was starving.
Luckily for me, when I complained to the night manager about that, he promptly walked me to a restaurant. Originally from New Zealand, he was one of those larger than life characters you meet in places like this. He'd come for a week a couple of years ago and was still here. That was a story I was to hear often. The first bus driver I had, had come for a holiday twenty years ago, but had pretty much made Broome his home ever since.

A glimpse of the pool
Robin, the night manager was a big solid man with an interesting beard which ended in a plait. Before this he had worked on cruise ships throughout Asia and the Pacific. Alas, the restaurant he took me to was well above my pay grade. “Don’t worry about that," he said,  order what you like. I do a shift here sometimes too.”  The place was packed. People came to chat. I couldn’t believe how friendly and cosmopolitan it was.  The food was cosmopolitan too. After some delicious Thai chicken and a glass of red, we wound our way back to the hostel.

I blame the wine, but after that, I was completely done in and had to drag myself off to bed. At that point I was sharply reminded of one of the downsides of hostelling. It was impossible to sleep.  Apart from the heat and the revelry downstairs, one after another of my 11 dorm mates came stumbling in throughout the night and the lockers being just a tad small for backpacks and the like, they were falling all over the clutter on the floor. Bunks and ladders squeaked, the ceiling fans whirred  -though we were lucky to have them, and every time someone opened the door a bright shaft of light shot in  from the corridor.
To make matters worse, the wall between us and the next twelve -bed dorm stopped two thirds of the way up to the ceiling, (presumably to aid ventilation), so we not only had our own snorers and red hot lovers, but were treated to those from next door as well. Still, for $15 a night, I was grateful to have a flat place to lie down, even if sleep proved elusive. The special price for your average Broome resort is around $600 for four nights, while four and a half starred Cable Beach normally charges around $1800 for same, although it too was running a special. I’m not sure if this was because of the rapidly approaching ’wet' ‘when many people leave the area or because tourist operators were also feeling the pinch since the mining boom ended, Broome having always been a popular getaway for cashed up southerners.
The marvellous Boab tree which is unique to the North West of Australia


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