West is the Best

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Flag of Australia  , Western Australia,
Saturday, April 30, 2011

Firstly, apologies for the sideways pictures in the last blog. I had one minute 10 seconds left on the wifi connection so did not want to risk being timed out and having to start again. Getting online is more problematic than we expected it to be in Australia but I should bring you up to date on other matters first. Anyone who doesn't want to hear banking sagas can miss out the next page or so.

At the end of the last blog we hoped we had enough cash to hire the camper. We just made it despite Santander blocking our debit cards that day! We had withdrawn so much money over that week that they decided it must be someone else using our cards. So we were then minus credit card and two debit cards (we both have a Santander) leaving us totally dependent upon my Natwest debit card. Thank goodness that kept on working.

Anyway, we collected the camper and arranged for the credit card to be posted to someone in Perth who kindly agreed to let us use their address. Then we went to look for some friends, Clive and Helen, whom we had not seen for 20 years. We had tried to email but not had a reply so thought they may have moved from the address we had for them in Kelmscott, Perth. They were at the same address and accepted our turning up unannounced as if it were the most normal thing in the world and they made us feel very welcome, taking us out for a Thai meal (especially appreciated as my Natwest card was exhausted) and insisting we take the opportunity to sleep in a real bed before heading off in the van the following day.

Although we had intended to travel north from Perth for 5 weeks or so, because we now needed to be around to collect our credit card when it arrived from Nottingham, we decided to go south for a week. Clive and Helen sat up late with us to help work out an interesting itinerary and then it was time for me to call Santander on Skype to sort out the block on the cards.

I reached a young man eventually after 2 failed calls and he sounded very cheerful. Then I realised he had been trained to smile when talking to clients so he was permanently cheerful. He asked me the 3 security questions, one of which was when had we opened the account. I think I gave the wrong answer because he said, (very cheerfully) that I had failed the security check so he could not speak to me any longer. With resignation I asked if that meant I had to call back again. With great glee he said no, I couldn't do that because he would make a note on the account that I had failed the security check and nobody would be allowed to speak to me. I was dumbfounded. I asked if I could be put through to his supervisor or a manager and he responded that that was not allowed, and that he had already spoken to me for too long and would lose his job if he carried on the call.

I was trying to think quickly, realising that I couldn't let him go but not sure how to break through the barrier. It was a fine balancing act, I didn't dare say what I wanted to as he would have just terminated the call. So I asked if he was happy to leave us in Australia without any money. Still sounding very happy he said no, he didn't want to do that, he could give us the name of a company that specialised in obtaining money from overseas accounts. Until then, I had believed that I was a non violent person. He would have realised how wrong that was if he had been within reach – I would have happily throttled him with bare hands! I said I didn't want anyone else accessing the account, I wanted to take MY money out of MY account. We went round in circles for some time and then again he repeated that he had to end the call immediately. I said the only thing I could think of, that if he did that, I would then call the newspapers in England to see how they felt about the bank leaving 2 elderly people destitute in a foreign country. There was a 5 second silence and then he said, ”I am transferring you to my manager”.

She was very pleasant, asked 3 SIMPLE security questions, (smiling only when appropriate) and put me through to the department that can unblock cards after being sure to explain to them that I had already answered the security questions so that they would not ask more. Success finally, but I was exhausted! In fact, they blocked them again 2 weeks later, for no reason that they could identify, but it was rectified easily that time. Jim and I now have crib sheets prepared, ready to help us with security questions, a strategy I would recommend to everyone after my experience.

But back to Australia. The south west corner of Western Australia proved really interesting. We travelled to Margaret River country which is full of wineries, pretty towns and caves. We visited a winery recommended by Clive and Helen, Wills Domain, as it had a lovely view. It also had lovely wine and excellent food! We did the wine tasting first before lunch which was enjoyable and informative and I chose the wine to accompany my lunch. We had agreed Jim would only do the wine tasting as he was driving, which was lucky as the wine I preferred was not usually included with the lunch as it is so expensive, but as Jim was not having any, they gave me the expensive one. We could have happily spent our days visiting different wineries, wine tasting and lunching al fresco but funds and common sense suggested this was not a wise strategy. It is a very gentle, pleasant area with a good climate and more temperate summers than Perth and further north. The coast has lots of bays and beaches, interesting rock formations, and superb forests of different kinds of eucalyptus and peppermint trees. The scent from the trees in the far south where there are groves of peppermint trees was so exquisite it was like having permanent aromatherapy treatment.

And then the wildlife! Our second night was on a camp site at Windy Cove. After we had eaten I went to have a shower and saw a man standing to the left of the footpath, probably waiting for someone to come from the ladies shower block. As I drew level I turned to say good evening, and stopped dead. “He” stood almost six feet tall, with large ears and a long nose. It was a kangaroo. Then I saw that there were 4 small roos to the right of the path. I know it is not good to get between a wild animal and its young so I backed up a little and tried to search my brain desperately for data about kangaroos. The only thing that popped into my head were images of roos kick boxing and wearing boxing gloves. Definitely not helpful! At that point Jim came to see why I had stopped and the smaller animals hopped away quickly. I gave the male a wide berth and went for my shower. Afterwards I realised what the animal droppings all over the camp site were. I had thought they were just big rabbits.

We went for a walk in the Valley of the Giants, great tall karri trees, ( a variety of eucalyptus – I had not realised how many different trees are part of this species) and next to the car park we saw a quokka, which looks like a small wallaby about one foot tall. It is unusual to see one during the day as they are nocturnal and very shy.

Near Australind we saw huge numbers of kangaroos. They congregate in the early evening to graze the fields. There must have been 500 or 600 hundred spread across the open land and that is where I saw the 2 males fighting (minus boxing gloves).

Perhaps the strangest creatures here are the emus. They are shy so more difficult to spot especially as they have great camouflage. Their necks and legs are so thin they can only be seen close to and the brown/grey/black body of feathers appears like a shrub from a distance. They wander through forests as well as across open plains and even step out on the road just in front of you as Jim discovered. One group of 6 or 7 were standing on an open hillside near the road so Jim stopped the camper to look and they immediately started running up and over the hill, looking really comical as they have a strange (dare I say “girlish”? run) but within seconds we couldn't see them for dust!

In Augusta there is a river estuary where we thought we might spot interesting birds so we had a walk and found spoonbills, black swans and Australian pelicans, the most elegant pelicans encountered to date. They surrounded a man who was cleaning his fishing catch and he said to hang on a second as he was going to throw them some scraps and we could take good pictures. Unfortunately their diving and soaring for fish was much quicker than Jim's photographic reflexes so the perfect shot evaded him. However, the man chatted and told us he had caught a Spanish Mackerel, a really tasty fish. It was more than a metre long. As he filleted it he took four good size pieces and gave them to us saying we should try it and remember Aussies as generous people. We raced back to the camper and put the fillets in the fridge. I was afraid my cooking would not do them justice but with fried rice and vegetables the fish was delicious.

On the map I spotted a place on the coast with the unusual name of Thrombolites. It sounded like a disease to me but I thought it might have been founded by a Greek man. We went to have a look and I was shamed by my ignorance. It wasn't a place name but the place where thrombolites cover the shoreline. They are rocks just under the water that appear to grow. An accretion of limestone builds up on the rock from the water so that gradually the rock increases in height. They look a little like coral but are not alive unlike the coral which consists of tiny animal organisms

We reached Albany on the south coast before turning inland to make our way back to Perth where we spent the weekend with Clive and Helen, collected our credit card and planned our route north (not that we keep to plans). Clive also convinced Jim that he could not go north without a fishing rod so he generously loaned him one with all the accompanying tackle and provided a quick lesson on casting in the garden which resulted in a few trees being reeled in.

It was a lovely weekend in Perth as Clive and Helen took us out to see the city centre and highlights of the city, including lovely parks and botanical gardens overlooking the sea. We visited Cottesloe Beach and then went to Fremantle, (Freo as it is called locally), the port for Perth. We would not have thought to visit it without our guides but it is fascinating. It has old buildings which are now being protected whereas similar buildings in Perth were pulled down to build new high rise ones. There are lots of bars and restaurants, including a boutique brewery, where of course we had to stop to look around and have a drink, a market and a small goal house built in the days of the early settlers, about 1830. Fremantle was a whaling station and some historic features remain including a museum.

 
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