Leaving Cambodia for Perth in Australia came as a huge relief, and I was so excited at the prospect of staying with our dear friends Kevin and Geraldine from home, who emigrated to Melbourne in Australia back in the 1970’s and subsequently ended up moving to Perth where they now live with their two beautiful grown up daughters. Kevin is my daughter’s uncle (the brother of my daughter Alison’s father), and while Alison’s father and I went our separate ways many many years ago, Kevin, his family and extended family have nurtured and nourished and doted on Alison throughout her life. They have also been a rock of support to me as her mother since Alison was born over 32 years ago and are still a huge part of my life and my family’s life to this day. I see them as my extended family, and I adore each and every one of them like they were my own flesh and blood. Kevin and Geraldine have always been a total rock in both my daughter’s and my life since she was born. They had kindly invited me and Colm to stay at their place for as long as we needed to on our trip around the world. They offered to take us around Perth to show us the sights of their adopted hometown. Getting there couldn’t come quick enough for us.
And so we readied ourselves to board our flight to Perth at the airport in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. As always, the first step was to rid ourselves of our luggage at the check-in desk on arrival to the airport. Now, let me add at this point that checking in baggage at airports and trying to figure out the allowance and costs associated with dragging around two years of belongings has not been something I have grown accustomed to on this trip. In fact, I’ve become quite irate at the sheer inconsistency and scamming that goes on. In a nutshell, it’s at the behest of the individual airlines as to what they want to charge passengers and while the majority of information around this is set out clearly on their websites, not all of them are upfront about it until passengers arrive at the check in desk with luggage in tow. Luggage costs is something that everyone should be aware of before undertaking any journey, and while it might appear to be rather insignificant when doing all the booking and planning that comes with travelling, the costs can be very significant if it goes wrong. Cheap flights doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the cheaper option. By the time you factor in the baggage costs it can cost a hell of a lot more than the most expensive flight on your search engine. A couple of incidences in particular almost resulted in me pole-vaulting over the check-in desks. At one point I was contemplating skipping my flight from Nha Trang to Hanoi in Vietnam and doing some serious protesting with banners in front of the airline check-in desk. On that occasion we had booked our flights with Vietjet Air. As always, we checked on their website before arriving at the airport to ensure that our luggage was within the allowance limit listed. It had stated that we could carry up to 32kgs on the flight (included in the flight cost). When we arrived at the check-in desk, we were advised that the 32kg allowance only referred to “international” flights, and not internal ones. This was certainly not stated clearly on the website before we arrived to the airport and I told them so! Having queued at the check-in desk for almost an hour we were re-directed to the airlines information desk where we were told we had to pay a hefty additional cost for our luggage to be accepted on the flight. Thankfully the people queuing were mainly Vietnamese and didn’t quite get the true extent of my rage as I ranted and cussed at the desk about the fact that this was nothing short of an attack on my rights as a consumer etc. and that I would walk around Hanoi naked before paying the costs of the luggage transfer. Clearly the threat of me walking around naked didn’t work, and so we eventually had no choice but to cough up the exorbitant cost of bringing two 20kg suitcases on board with us! I did remove my jacket and scarf dramatically though…just for the effect lol!
Now, here we were at Sihanoukville airport in Cambodia getting ready to board our flight to Perth. Yet again, the airline Air Asia advises when booking that baggage allowances and costs can be found on their website. Our tickets didn’t include baggage costs and so a few days before leaving we checked their website and found that their site was down. Inaccessible, no-can-do on checking luggage etc. We repeatedly checked before arriving at the airport only to find that it was still unavailable and thought no more about it, resigning ourselves to the fact that we would sort it when we arrived at the airport. Again, queuing for quite some time, we arrived at the desk, handed over our passports and dropped our 20kg cases onto the weighing belt. When the desk assistant muttered “that will be €560 please”, I thought she was talking to somebody else as I scanned the area for the person she was talking to. Nope, she was looking directly at me. It was us! She explained that if we didn’t check in online on their website, that it was more costly to do so at the check-in desk. We were to pay €80 each for the first 15kgs of our luggage and €40 per kg after that. Basically we were 10kgs over, which was €400, and €160 for the first 15kgs. A whopping €560 bill or we wouldn’t be able to take our bags with us! Understandably, I flipped! I’d had enough! Rats, flea-ridden dogs, garbage, a nightmare of a journey through Cambodia….it was the straw that broke the camel’s back! I turned into a raving lunatic! Through gritted teeth I reminded her that because their website was down, despite numerous attempts to access the baggage cost section (and to this day is still not working), was she now saying that we were being caught for all of these additional costs? Red-faced with temper, and much to the amusement of nearby spectators, I started emptying all of the contents of my case out on the floor, dirty laundry included (reckoning that it would cost me less to buy brand new clothes and shoes etc. than to transport the ones in the case). I was ready for war! I point blank refused to pay the costs being applied because of checking in luggage at the desk instead of the website and threatened that I was gonna go public with this (I think Joe Duffy got a mention at one point – in Cambodia! That’s how mad I was). Naturally the Manageress was called to deal with this raving mad Irish woman and after much to-ing and fro-ing with her she eventually backed down and charged us what we would have been charged if we had booked in online. The bill of €560 was quickly reduced to €80 in total – and with the savings associated with the costs of a potential hospital bill for cardiac assistance for me and god knows what for her, I exhaled deeply, dusted myself down and made my way to the plane in as dignified a manner as I could muster, and with our luggage carefully labeled and transported to the hold of the plane. My point…it didn’t have to be like this if airlines made sure that their websites were working properly and more importantly, updated regularly!
Our flight was a two-stop flight. One stop-over for a couple of hours in Kuala Lumpur and onwards to Bali. The Bali stop-over was a long one of about 7 hours and so we decided when we landed in Denpasar that we would take a cab to nearby Kuta for a bite to eat and some relaxation time before our onward flight to Perth. On arriving in Kuta we did contemplate visiting a tattoo parlor but that kind of crazy thinking happens after long-haul flights coupled with a few gin and tonics Luckily, time was against us and instead we made our way to a nearby restaurant/bar. Once inside, a huge thunderstorm struck and the road outside became a river. But we were snug and safe inside and with not a care in the world began tucking into our meal. Suddenly I felt a shudder under my feet and a huge rumbling noise filled the air around us! Nervously I asked Colm if this was the country that experienced regular earthquakes? I was sure I was feeling vibrations and rumbling (I assured him that it wasn’t that I hadn’t felt earth move before but this had a different feel to it 😂😂😱). He confidently explained that it was only the vibration from the claps of thunder outside, and so I happily continued eating, we paid the bill, and headed back to the airport. Arriving into the airport, the huge TV screens had reports flashing all over them that only a few miles away from us in Kuta, an earthquake measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale had hit Bali. I knew it! It was an earthquake that I had felt earlier! People at the airport were sharing stories about how they had felt serious tremors from the higher floors of their hotels and how they thought they would have to be evacuated. A quick google of “the effects of an earthquake on a plane taking off” confirmed that we would most likely be able to fly regardless! Our baggage problems were a distant memory at that stage and pretty insignificant…and when the engines roared as we climbed high into the Bali sky and headed for Perth, I didn’t look back!
Perth city in Australia is the most remote city in the world, with a population of just over 2 million people. It is a relatively young city by comparison to other cities around the world and was founded as recently as 1829. It is 2,104 kms away from its nearest neighbour city of Adelaide and is the largest on the entire west coast of Australia. Its population is diverse, with immigrants having moved there from all over the world during the Western Australia gold rushes in the late 19th century. Flying over north western Australia en-route to Perth from Asia gives a real insight into the remoteness of this city. Thousands of miles of red-soiled desert lands with no sign of life gives an almost outer space like look to the land, until out of nowhere, as the aircraft nears Perth, buildings and skyscrapers appear and look a little out of place as we come in to land.
Now you might remember me mentioning in my earlier blog that water was scarce on the islands we had stayed on in Cambodia. Hot water was non-existent, and showers trickled with cold water. All of this you see, led to us resembling hobos. Colm had grown quite a thick beard (I wasn’t too far behind him on that score in the hair growth department 😱😂) and would not have been out of place on the movie Castaway! We didn’t look great in fairness by the time we landed in Perth and probably smelled even worse! We had gotten rid of a lot of our dirty laundry on the floor at the airport in Cambodia and that helped I guess with the odours permeating from our suitcases as we wheeled them through the Arrivals gate at Perth Airport. As we came through, I caught a glimpse of Kevin and Geraldine in the waiting area. The sense of relief and excitement at seeing their familiar faces after our whole journey was so comforting. But I’m almost sure I caught a glimpse of fear in Kevin’s eyes when he saw the state of us first as we reached out to give him a hug. 😂😂😂. It was back to theirs, into the shower and lots of chats and catch up before we headed out again for our first sight-seeing drive around the city. It was breathtaking! Geraldine and Kevin live just a stone’s throw from the ocean and in total contrast to the homes that we had seen in Cambodia, these homes were multi-million dollar ones with ocean views and immaculately kept grounds. My first question was “what do these people work at to be able to afford such splendid houses?”.
Kevin and Geraldine were dream hosts, taking us sightseeing around all of the white sandy beaches nearby, cooking traditional Australian BBQs in their garden where we sat and caught up for hours over glasses of good quality conversation and of course, Australian wine. They couldn’t do enough for us. They took us out to meet their close friends for dinners and of course a much needed girly shopping trip with Geraldine .
They organized an open-top bus tour with a bus company (Perth Explorer) owned by a friend of theirs, where the company was launching its first multi-lingual audio bus tour which included every language you can think of, including a children’s channel. It is the only bus tour currently that offers this service in Perth. The tour was being filmed as part of a promotional event and to our amazement, we featured on the Australian news channel that evening. Fame at last! If you ever visit Perth I would highly recommend this tour as you get to see the whole place, including the beautiful Kings Park from a birds-eye view in the space of a few hours. Next on the list was a boat trip out into the Indian Ocean to do some Whale watching! Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect I would get to do this and it has to be up there as one of the highlights of our trip down under. We boarded the large boat at Perth Harbour and headed miles out into the Ocean to where the huge hump backed whales were happily swimming and breaching the waves. Scanning the horizon excitedly, we soon spotted a mother and her baby calves, with their backs arching above the ocean, and tails spanned wide as they dived deep below us. It was jaw dropping! A large male whale soon joined them and apparently, although not related to the female and her calves, was guiding them back to the colder waters south around the Antarctic where they usually live and away from the warming waters of the Indian Ocean. It was spectacular! Watching their huge tails gracefully lift up as they glided down into the ocean below was like nothing I had every seen before. Yet another once in a life-time experience on this journey that I will never forget!
One of our final trips was to the Fremantle Prison, a few miles south of Perth and a must see if you happen to find yourself in this part of the world. We learned on the day of the tour of the cell blocks and courtyards of the prison that in the 19th century, in addition to Australian convicts held, that Irish political prisoners had also been jailed at the prison. One of the most prominent escapees in the 19th century was a group of Irish men. The story goes that six Irish Fenian prisoners from what was then known as the British penal colony of Western Australia, and who were supporters of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, organized a fantastic escape from the prison. The plan was that an American ship, the “Catalpa” would sail close to Fremantle but remain outside the international limit. The ship was provided by an Irish sympathizer and former prisoner of Fremantle who had received a pardon for his part in Irish nationalism, but who had been banished from returning to Ireland. He instead moved to Boston. The six carefully planned their escape from the prison on a day when police and security were distracted with another event happening outside of the town of Fremantle. All six Irish men were on gardening duties outside of the prison walls on the day when they stealthily made their way to a dinghy in the harbour which took them out to the ship waiting for them a few miles out at sea. By the time they had reached the ship, the prison guards became aware of their absence and immediately fled to the harbour to search for them. A police boat was deployed and sailed out to the ship, firing warning shots across the bow of the “Catalpa”. On seeing the police the Captain of the “Catalpa” raised the American flag on the ship’s top mast and declared that if they continued to fire shots at the ship that it would be deemed as an act of war against the United States, as the ship was sailing in international waters. The ship sailed away without any further obstacles and the six Irish men were brought back to New York to a hero’s welcome. A pretty impressive story by all accounts and we left the prison tour with our heads held a bit higher than when we went in 😂… Go ye Irish Fenian men!
Perth City is immaculately laid out and it is clear walking around that the locals take great pride in their city. The public services are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. In the very centre of Perth there is a huge swimming pool with sun loungers where families can gather and spend time together. Nearby is a huge park with public BBQ facilities! And I kid you not, once one family/group of people use those BBQs they leave them sparkling clean for the next group of people. There isn’t a piece of litter to be seen anywhere, nowhere! Not even on the beaches! Their public toilets along all of the beachfronts are the standard of any toilets you would find in a 5-star hotel. A skateboard park and playground flank the outskirts of the city centre and kids can be seen playing from sun up to sun down, leaving the parks as immaculate as they found them. Not a bit of graffiti anywhere to be seen on the walls of the buildings. “What’s their secret?” I find myself asking. There is no other city anywhere we had been on our travels that was so pristine clean and organized with the whole population taking such pride in their surroundings. Whatever they have, they need to bottle it, or at the very least share it!
Now I had heard before arriving in Perth that shark attacks have happened at certain stretches of the beaches in Perth. As we walked along the beaches, we could clearly see cordoned off areas for swimmers with large safety nets and buoys, set up for the swimmers safety. Some of the restaurants in Perth have the remnants of surf boards with huge shark bites taken out of them hanging from the ceiling. So as you can guess, I didn’t sum up the courage to swim in the beautiful ocean. However, I did pop in for a paddle one day and really wanted a photo of myself actually in the Indian Ocean. Kevin kindly offered to take the photo. He shouted, turn around and face the camera and hold on until I get you in view. What I didn’t know was that there was a huge surf wave gaining momentum behind me. I should have copped him trying to muffle a loud laugh, but no, I was standing there, all smiles waiting for the photographer to capture the photo, when suddenly …bang, over my head came the most gigantic wave, drenching me and causing me to scream at the highest pitch I could manage! It still didn’t drown out their laughter on the beach! And that was my photograph of me in the Indian Ocean. Nice one Kevin 😂.
As our week drew to an end there was one more thing that we had to do before we left. Julie, a friend of Kevin and Geraldine’s, had told us about wild Kangaroos who lived in the local cemetery. Yes, I know…I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why either 😂. And it was simple…a huge expanse of green grassy land with flowers on graves. Perfect for their hungry bellies and for feeding their joeys! And so, Julie collected us on our last evening in Perth and drove us out to the graveyard to see for ourselves the antics of these creatures. As we drove into the grounds of the cemetery I was astounded to see kangaroos everywhere! Hundreds of them all over the grounds. Mothers with their joeys and the larger ones never to far from them. I hopped out of the car and approached a group of them and to my excitement, they didn’t move! They stayed right there and let me video them, although the males were always nearby watching and waiting for any sign of danger or sudden move from me. And what better way to end our trip to Perth than watching a joey climb into his mothers pouch as she hopped off to eat yet some more grass and plants with him safely inside.
Isn’t nature just a wonderful thing?!
Our plan was to spend three full weeks travelling Australia. One week in Perth, one in Melbourne where we planned to meet up with another old friend, Aine (Geraldine’s sister) also from my hometown who had emigrated many years ago to Melbourne. For the last week of our Australian trip we decided we would head to Sydney to meet my late father’s only brother, my uncle Paul and his family, who had also emigrated from Ireland to Sydney back in the 1970s. I haven’t seen him or his family for almost 30 years and at this point of the journey, I am beside myself with excitement at the prospect of spending some good quality family time with them.
But for now, it was onwards to Melbourne…
More to follow….soon