Lessons Learnt Lately

Trip Start Dec 03, 2004
Trip End Nov 31, 2005

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Flag of Australia  ,
Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Here is a list of lessons (or things) I have learnt lately:

1. How to fish.
2. How to cook a fish that I have caught.
3. How to drive on the wrong side of the road.
4. How to take good surfing photos.
5. How to shave someone's head.
6. How to identify a boil.

All of these, of course, are skills that you'll soon find decorating my CV, in preparation for a job in which I have drive in Australia, feed myself with only a fishing rod, find things in the ocean, be a hairdresser and a doctor all in one . . . no, really, they're only useful skills for a traveller.

Starting from the last one, the ladies at work (one of whom is a nurse) wanted to have a look at my "bug bites" and announced that, nope, I hadn't been bitten by anything venomous. Nothing half so exciting. Instead I'd gotten some sort of germ or bacteria lodged under the skin and I had the (extremely infectious and easy to spread) boils. There was a hospital visit involved, more antibiotics, large bandages, draining . . . it's all too terrible to talk about, actually. But if you ever need to identify boils, I shall pass on my learnings: at first you'll think you have a big zit. But it'll be a little itchy. And then a large red area will appear around, and it'll get bigger, instead of fading, and start to turn yellow, and get hard all around. Then you know that you have a boil.

The shaving of heads is a less painful experience, at least when you're doing the shaving, and not being shaved. In the course of a tipsy, beer-involved night, Ian, one of my friends (who had very short hair to begin with) announced he'd like to shave his head. So we hustled him into the boys washroom and had him all lathered up before he could change his mind. Alexa manned the scissors, snipping the hair down close to the skin, while I wielded the razor (I was chosen as being the least tipsy and therefore the least likely to take a big honkin' hunk out of Ian's head. I did manage to cut a mole above his ear open, but that was it. Although that was enough that ever afterwards whenever the head shaving came up in conversation, he'd say, "And she cut me!"). In forty-five minutes, which was a lot longer than I thought it would be, he didn't have any hair left. It looked like he was wearing a white bathing cap because of the difference between the colour of the skin on his head and his face.

The surfing photos (check them out at my photo website, community.webshots.com/user/kidsfestcat/) came about on Saturday when I drove down to Yallingup, the town just down the coast, with a Canadian guy named Mike who's over here to learn to surf. Yallingup means "place of love" in the local aboriginal language, and was supposedly a prime honeymoon location before the arrival of Europeans. Probably still is, since it's the best-situated town I've ever seen. A steep, densely wooded green hill plunges straight down to the huge crescent of a beautiful wide sand beach with a small swimming lagoon and a series of powerful surf breaks. The houses cling to the face of the hill, staring out over the unbroken Indian ocean, riding down the breaking crest of the hill, mirroring the image of the surfers shooting down the green faces out in the ocean.

It being Easter, the beach was fantastically busy, but there were still enough surf breaks that Mike could pick a comparatively untouched one and paddle out for a try. He himself hasn't got a ton of experience, but there were a lot of really good surfers out and I brought my camera out and started clicking away, trying to get the timing right to capture surfers in the process of doing something big. Because when you click the digital camera it takes a moment to go off, I soon realized that a lot of luck would be involved in getting something even remotely interesting; at first I was just squeezing off shots of broken waves, the surfers already having falling off the back into the froth. I took about 150 and at the end I had six good ones---but they were good, of people actually getting air or leaning into the barrel. Mike was really pleased that I managed to get a shot of him up on the one big wave he attempted, and made him look like he knew what he was doing.

I took the camera out again the next day when we drove down to a beach just north of Yallingup for a bit of swimming and running about. Seven of us wanted to go and we wouldn't fit in Mike's car, so Alexa, who was tired and didn't want to go out, plus wasn't on speaking terms with Joe due to some soap opera shenanigans earlier in the month, volunteered to loan us the car, but only if either I or Ian drove, because everyone else had had a beer by that time and she didn't trust them. Ian said he was willing to drive down but not back because he was lazy, so I got the assignment to drive the thing back, plus driving it to and from Alexa's house. The experience of driving on the wrong side was not as bad as I'd thought it would be, mostly because I've been a passenger in enough cars that I'm used to the sensation, and I had Ian to coach me in things like "getting in and out of roundabouts correctly," since he's from Scotland and used to driving on that side. The only real difficulty was with the blinkers; the switch is on the opposite side and everytime he'd say, "alright, indicate left on the way into the roundabout," I'd turn on the windshield wipers instead. Oops!

That day the beach was very stormy, with big waves, too big for swimming, but just right for climbing up on a big rock that stuck out into the surf and got the full pound of the waves, shooting up walls of fifteen-foot-spray, but leaving one section in the middle of the rock completely dry, so we sat there with the waves coming up and surrounding us in a cocoon of white mist.

The fishing is now a commonplace occurrence at the backpackers; Mike and Ian both bought rods and we've been going out on the jetty after hours and casting out a line. There's always hundreds of fishers out there, with their esky of beers and another esky to drop the bloody fish into. Ian lets me use his rod and on my first cast the first night I got a bite. I had to hand it back and have him reel it in; it was about a foot long, a sharp-faced thing called a "snook," and we were informed it was just a touch too small to keep, so it had to be thrown back. We were heartbroken.

Mike caught a very large benido and a large taylor, which we ate the next night in a pineapple-lemon marinade, and I found out that I actually do like eating some fish. On Monday Ian and I went out again, determined to catch a keeper, and parked ourselves away from any local fisherman who could be really picky about "illegal" versus "legal" fish. For about two hours we were getting any bites, and then out of nowhere Ian pulled in a taylor, big enough that we decided we would like to keep it. At first he was a little timid about bashing it to death, but it keep twitching and finally had to have the head chopped off. I'm squeamish about touching fish, so I was staying well away from the dirty parts of the sport. Then, having got his catch, he passed the rod over and it was my turn to reply. First cast, I hook something and reel it in, this time on my own, and it's another snook, about the same size, maybe the fish from the night before, who knows. This time we're definitely not tossing it back. We swap rods and on his first cast he pulls in another taylor, this one too small to keep, and throwing it back seemed to scare off all the fish, because that was it for bites for the evening. We filleted the fish (read "Ian filleted the fish while I watched some other fisherman who'd hooked a four-foot shovelhead shark and were attempting vainly to drag it in") and brought them back. On Tuesday we grilled those babies up with lemon and garlic and tasted the sweet fruit of our own labour. Fishing is a rather addictive sport because it's quite calm most of the time, so you can just sit around chatting and admiring the glowing orange moon in the starry sky, and then there's a burst of adrenaline every now and then, and then something to show for all the effort---something you can eat! And it's free! (Very appealing to a backpacker). So we're heading out again tonight to try for something bigger. A shark of our very own, perhaps.

So those are the lessons I've learned lately . . . (plus how to be very, very wickedly good at ping pong, but that's not something I particularly want to brag about).
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