Welcome back to Places I’ve Been, my theme for the 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge.
Today, this this brings us to X, and not without a rather pregnant pause. Indeed, you could say that I’ve never been anywhere starting with X. Moreover, although I’ve had multiple x-rays, I could hardly say that I’ve been to xylophone, could I?
Even with a great theme, every year there’s always a few rubbish letters which no amount of creativity, imagination or roaming through the thesaurus can resolve. X is a frequent flyer. Or, perhaps I should say: “frequent failure”. However, if we were looking on the bright side, we could simply re-frame these difficult letters as “challenging”. After all, even I have to admit the finding an X has been “an education” almost every year. Anyway, that’s how I conjured up the idea of this year’s X being… (drum roll!!) An Xtraordinary Travel Yarn.
Back when I was a 21 year old university student, I caught the Indian Pacific from Sydney to Perth sitting up the entire way with a week off in Adelaide to break up the trip. Although I initially stayed with my uncle in Perth, I soon moved into the Youth Hostel. As an unabashed extrovert, I was like a pig in mud mixing with backpackers from right around the world, which was so exciting for someone who’d only ever been to Hong Kong. I loved it. It was a constant party and talkfest with all these young, mostly single people all thrown together and blowing along with the wind.
Anyway, an American, two Japanese and an Australian (yours truly) decided to pitch in and hire a car to check out the Pinnacles, a series of eroded limestone pillars, which resemble a haunted graveyard. The Pinnacles are located in the Nambung National Park, near Cervantes 192 kms North of Perth, making for a 2.25 hour drive via State Route 60. Looking like somewhere straight out of Stephen King, the Pinnacles aren’t the sort of place you want to get lost, especially after dark. The bogey man, woman, or their ghost, could well be lurking around somewhere.
Being a cautious bunch, the night before our big adventure, as you can see from the photograph, our American driver practised driving the Australian way in the courtyard at the hostel. For the uninitiated, that means driving on the left hand side of the road while sitting on the right hand side of the car (Gee all that was confusing. I had to run that by Geoff to get it right.)
All went well at the Pinnacles. Conditions were absolutely perfect for photography and we got some striking, even haunting images. Indeed, if we’d just turned around and driven back to Perth the way we came, there wouldn’t have been a story to tell. Just a handful of photos with smiling faces, these wacky limestone pillars and deep blue skies.
However, we looked at the map and noticed an alternative, much more scenic, coastal route back to Perth via a tiny place called Grey, which barely seemed to justify its dot on the map. Indeed, we should’ve known we were hardly heading for a huge metropolis when we spotted the “Bar” out the window. Taking rustic to the extreme, I jumped out and took a photo.
Meanwhile, our travels along this exceptionally scenic road continued. By the way, I should point out that when we checked out the map, this road was marked “vehicular track. Local enquiry suggested.” However, we were young. Had no idea what that meant, and brushed it off. Whenever we hit a bump in the road, our fearless American leader calmly reversed back up and literally floored it right through the sand. Indeed, I’m sure we all gave him a huge cheer, instead of questioning whether our humble Toyota Camry truly had 4WD capabilities and whether it was capable of pulling off this trip. After all, this was a hire car and family sedan. It wasn’t your classic Aussie paddock-basher, which could be abandoned by the side of the road when it failed to do the deed.
However, it’s so much easier to be sensible when you’re 50 years old and enjoying the comfort of your lounge chair. It’s also easier in hindsight when you know that humble Toyota Camry along with the American, Australian and two Japanese onboard are about to drive straight into a massive sand dune, where no amount of reversing was going to save the day. We were bogged.
Not only that. It was almost sunset and all we had in terms of food and water, was half a bottle of diet coke and an apple. In other words, no emergency rations.
We were in serious trouble.
While we weren’t exactly lost, we were well and truly off the grid in a very remote and isolate spot with a very slim chance of anyone finding us quickly along our road less travelled. Indeed, this area was so isolated, not even the coronavirus could find it.
Anyway, the American and one of the Japanese guys did the hero bloke thing, and walked off in search of help while I stayed behind with the other Japanese guy at the car. I started wondering how long we were going to be stranded here, and that my parents back in Sydney all the way across the other side of the country, had no idea where I was and how much trouble we were in. Indeed, I could go missing and never, ever be found all because we couldn’t read a map properly and opted for the scenic route.
If the guys couldn’t find help, our only hope lay back at the Youth hostel. I’d arranged to go out for dinner with a friend at 7.00 pm, and was hoping she might raise the alarm when we didn’t get back. After all, this was 1990 and none of us had mobile phones. Besides, they wouldn’t have worked there anyway. Too remote.
Meanwhile the sun was setting. I photographed the sunset. As you can see, it was absolutely magnificent, an incredible golden glow over the ocean. However, I still remember the fear. I also didn’t really know what to talk about with the Japanese guy, but he talked to me about work in Japan and he sang me a song which I think might have been from the company dormitory where he lived. I could well have recited Dorothea McKellar’s iconic Australian love poem: My Country, as I always love to educate people about Australia and share a bit of “us”.
However, all too soon, the sun had set. It was pitch black, and the others hadn’t returned. I think we had the lights on. After all, we were needing to be found. It was a very stressful time, particularly for me as the only Australian with any idea of just how dangerous being stranded in such an isolation place without adequate provisions could be.
Trust me. I wasn’t catastrophizing!!
Yet, then out of the darkness, salvation appeared. The guys had flagged down a local fisherman with a 4WD who towed us out…not without a bit of a smile either. Rotten tourists. We weren’t the first lot he’d towed out either.
Probably the worst part of this story, is that it along with the photos have been buried for almost 30 years. My kids have never seen them and boy did they have a laugh at my expense, especially our son who is about to head off and get his Learner’s Permit. My pathetic map reading skills and zero sense of direction are legendary around here, and this was just the icing on the cake. Trust Mum!
Indeed, while I can have a laugh at our ordeal, driving into a sand dune is even way too cringe-worthy for me, although I was but a humble passenger at the time. Well, as the only Australian in the car, I could well have been the navigator and that in itself could well have been our undoing. I get lost even when I turn the map around the right way. Anyway, about five years later, I returned to Western Australia and all of this was well and truly swept under the carpet. Pinnacles? What Pinnacles? Moreover, I’ve never returned to the town of Grey either.
Do you have an Xtraordinary travel story? Please share in the comments down below and add any links.