Thursday, March 10, 2011

A fine welcome to Margaret River

Margaret River is one of those legendary places in Australia. Long before they started producing world renowned wines, the place was famed for its surf beaches and laid back lifestyle. Pretty much like the Byron Bay of the south west coast. Surrounded by thick and towering forests of Karri trees, the area is one of natural beauty. With the beaches for surfing, swimming and fishing, caves to explore, the river itself and of course the wineries, Margaret River offers much. We were booked into a caravan park from today as we were to be meeting up with Mum, who had flown across from Melbourne a few days ago. She was to be bussing down from Perth after spending a few days with her sisters. With the weather so grim on the south coast we had decided to head across a day earlier, but there was no room for us yet at our booked site. After searching our possible options, we happened across a camping ground just out of Margaret River at a sheep farm in Rosa Glen and decided to spend a night there. And what a score it was. Half the price of a caravan park with a whole assortment of people staying there. A number of young Germans who were there for the surfing, some English backpackers who were doing likewise, a young combine harvester driver from the WA wheat belt who was down doing some local harvesting, a family of Jehovah's Witnesses from Perth with the father and son both working around Margs on some building projects, a group of excited school children from a Perth catholic school on a camp, a couple of old ex-pat Swiss blokes who had travelled across from Sydney and a combined family with six kids who were off on a journey around Australia, much like ourselves. With six kids, they had clearly bitten off more than us. They were doing distance learning, with the youngest being in grade 4 and the eldest doing year 12. For the primary school children that involved a strict regime of 4 hours per day, mostly spent on a computer. According to their mother the curriculum was just like a full school year including science projects and cooking. She said that the education standard was significantly higher than at the state school up in Broome that the kids had attended up until this year. It seems that her son in grade 6 was struggling to do the distance ed maths exercises that were set for her youngest son in grade 4. Her daughter in year 8 was rapt with the distance learning caper. She was able to work totally at her own pace and had finished the first term of work some weeks before the end of the term. She then had those weeks as extra holiday. They had already been at the farm for three weeks and were staying for four more before moving on, with the father of the crew having picked up some work locally. They thought that they'd probably be on the road for two years in their giant bus, but didn't really know how long it would be.

It seems that when you go travelling, whatever you are doing and however long you are going for, there is always somebody out there more adventurous who has bitten off even more. Not that it's a competition, just that there's always somebody to inspire you to step a bit further out of your comfort zone. When Tori and I went from England across Europe in a VW Transporter van, we were in Istanbul planning a trip down the west coast of Turkey, back across the Greek Islands to Italy, onward through France, Spain and Portugal and ultimately back to England. Quite a nice trip undoubtedly, but quite conservative. In Istanbul, in the one campground, we met three Dutchmen who were riding their pushbikes from Holland to South Africa via the war torn Sudan, some German motor cyclists who were on a similar trip, a number of people heading down through Iran who had to wait 10 days in Istanbul for their visa to come through and an English couple and their adopted Sri Lankan 10 year old daughter, who were driving in a Mercedes buslike camper from England to Sri Lanka. They were taking their daughter to see where she was originally from. From there they were going to be putting the bus on a boat in South India bound for Australia and were then going to travel around Oz. Essentially, they were driving from England to Australia! Our unadventurous trip across western Europe seemed meek in comparison. That was when we decided to head east across Turkey and drive on down into Syria, Jordan and Israel. The fact that the Americans chose that time to bomb Iraq once more put a little bit of an extra edge to being a westerner in Syria. But as seems invariably the case, the people of a country don't particularly identify with the decisions of their leaders and pretty much treat people they meet at face value. Apart from dealing with officialdom in that country, all of the people we met were friendly beyond belief. When we parked our odd looking camper in Damascus one day, a guy came out of his shop specifically to tell us that the vehicle would be safe there, that he would watch over it. I can't imagine that happening in Melbourne if a foreigner pulled up outside one of the designer shops in Chapel Street.

The people staying on the sheep farm all had an air about them that they knew they were staying somewhere special. Not only was it much cheaper than anywhere else, but the owners had set up an environment that fostered community. A fire pit encircled with large logs fashioned into seats, a large communal cooking area accompanied by an inviting eating area and a lounge equipped with a pool table at the back. It was disappointing to think that we would only be there for one night, as the accommodation down in the heart of Margaret River was already paid for. Tori and the kids toasted marshmallows over the fire while I enjoyed the conversation with the other travellers. I listened to tales of surfing with sharks at Margaret River, harvesting grapes and selling them on to the wine makers, indulgence in absinthe in Germany and in turn told my tales of didgeridoo festivals in Berlin and Switzerland. To me that's what travelling is all about. Meeting new people and sharing stories.

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