At breakfast this morning, I carefully lifted the milk jug from the buffet table and was slightly surprised to find that the whole thing fell apart in my hands. Several pints of milk sloshed all over the carpet and I found myself standing in the middle of a small white puddle holding nothing but a handle. For a moment, I imagined that I was about to find myself surrounded by kitchen staff cursing and swearing at me - but instead the waitress merely raised her eyes to heaven for a moment, walked casually over to take what was left of the jug from me, smiled and said "Well that's not the first time that's happened, I can tell you!". Good milk jugs must be at a premium in Western Australia. I went out to see Broome. It's only five blocks to the shopping center, promised my map. What it didn't point out was that the scale was about 1:1,000,000 and that every intersection was about a kilometre from the last. So I walked. And walked. Every block was exactly the same - roads in four directions, a couple of houses on each corner, weird pineapple shaped trees lining the roads. There seemed to be no pavements in Broome, but it didn't make much difference because there appeared to be no cars either. Occasionally a bloody great road-train would rumble by, the cab belching vicious looking chemicals into the air and attached to six or seven freight containers, each the length of a bus. This would give me a moment of amusement as I sat on a wall and watched the driver trying to negotiate a corner without demolishing the houses, and then I'd head off again for the next intersection, another kilometre further on. All four sides of every intersection were bordered by huge octagonal signs adorned with the word "STOP" in large red letters. So I would stop, look both ways, repeat a few times for comedic effect, and then erect my own sign underneath which read "Why, exactly?". Nothing was ever coming in Broome. On the subject of road signs in Australia, I am definitely noticing a lot of dumbing down going on. When I first noticed the chalk outlines of people drawn on pedestrian crossings in Sydney, I let it go - but it seems to have got worse as I've travelled westward. On a post near the Boulevard Shopping Centre in downtown Broome, I discovered a big yellow octagonal sign upon which was printed in large friendly letters: TO CROSS THE ROAD, FOLLOW THE FOOTPRINTS A set of footprints, drawn on the road, led the way to the other side. Who exactly is this for? I have also seen, painted onto the road in various places, a picture of a bicycle above which is another picture of a mother and baby - somebody needs to tell the government of Australia that road signs are supposed to be comprehensible to visitors. What does this mean? Only bicycles and mothers with babies in this lane? Be aware of mothers and babies when riding your bicycle? All new mothers must ride bicycles? What? I wanted to get a film developed so I found my way eventually to the big new Boulevard Shopping Center downtown. This was a place for serious shopping - hundreds of boutiques arranged in tidy rows, benches to sit on next to ornamental fountains, shiny polished walkways with tapestries of Australia hanging from the walls. No customers, of course - but then I wasn't really expecting anything else. Personally I was just glad of the air conditioning, which literally smacked me in the face as soon as the doors slid back and allowed me to drag my dehydrated carcase inside - it must've been at least 110 degrees out there today. I clawed my way across the lobby and into the Kodak shop, where I pulled myself up to the counter with the last of my strength and flopped down in front of the disinterested looking assistant:
"Please," I begged her, "Tell me you develop APS film here."
She looked at me as though she couldn't quite make up her mind whether to feel sorry for this bedraggled mess slumped over her counter, or call security and have me escorted from the building. After what seemed an age, she decided instead to turn and stride away into the back room, calling back as she went that I wanted the Image Plaza in Chinatown. That's another thing they all seem to think they're good at over here - mind reading. Chinatown was more of a Chinastreet really, on which the local shopping centre and all the shops had been built to resemble little white pagodas. It was very pretty and quite surreal at the same time, and not at all what I had been expecting to find in a place like Broome - in my experience, Chinatown is somewhere you'll find in big international cities such as New York and London where there is a large Chinese community, but this one seemed to be there just for the sake of it. There wasn't a single Chinese person anywhere, but if there had been they would have been very impressed with the community Broome has built for them. Just to confuse matters even further, the shopping centre in Chinatown contained a number of cafes and restaurants, none of which was Chinese. I had lunch in an atmospheric little bistro which had a tree growing right out of the floor in the middle of the dining area. The place was decorated in an Italian style, I was waited on by a chirpy American girl, and the menu was made up of a combination of foods from everywhere in the world except China or Italy. Chinatown in Broome was quite the most multicultural place I'd seen for quite a while - then again, perhaps they're all just really confused in this part of the country. Broome is famous the world over for Cable Beach, a twenty kilometre stretch of perfect powdery white sand which can be reached by a fairly strenuous walk to the outskirts of town or by grabbing a taxi, if you can find one. There's never any junk or crisp packets to distract you on this beach, as the tides are high enough to wash the sand clean twice a day. The walk is worth it just to be able to say that you've swum in the crystal blue waters of the Indian Ocean, although, however inviting it looks there is always some spoilsport hanging around to point out that there are plenty of box jellyfish in the sea between November and March just waiting to sting an unsuspecting tourist to death. There is an episode of Star Trek (Go with me on this one) where Kirk and his crew land on a planet which appears to be paradise but on which all the fruit and the grass and everything that looks even remotely beautiful is filled with acid just below the surface. Well, sometimes you get that impression in Australia - if you ever see something really stunning over here, the first question to generally ask is "How is it going to try to kill me?" Cable Beach also boasts Australia's most famous nudist beach, so if you're the sort of person to whom perfect white sand mean throwing off all your clothes and running in slow motion towards the sunset (which is, naturally, jaw-droppingly beautiful), then there's nearly seventeen kilometres of the beach just for you. At least if you're a man, you won't have to have any cold weather worries in this part of the world! The locals run camel rides up and down the beach - and if you still haven't been put off by my account of sore backside syndrome riding camels in the Red Center, riding a camel along the beach at sunset really isn't an experience you're going to be able to have in many other places around the world. Unfortunately, I'm only in Broome for a little over a day so I can't cram in everything I'd like to see. Other attractions of the area which I will have to schedule for a later date include the hundred million year old dinosaur footprints embedded in the rock at Gantheaume Point, which can only be seen when the tide is out. There's also a perfectly round pool nearby which was built by the lighthouse keeper to give his wife Anastasia relief from her arthritis, and I would particularly like to witness a phenomena which occurs for three nights every month between March and October called "The Staircase to the Moon", caused by the full moon rising over the rocks and reflecting in the shallow waters. I hadn't reckoned on the floods delaying me so much in Queensland and the Northern Territories, and I'm booked into a hotel in Perth for the next few nights on a non-refundable basis - I can't help feeling that I am missing so much of Western Australia! Back in my room tonight, I switched on the television in a foolish attempt to sample the delights of Western Australian entertainment and soak up some culture - but after coming half way around the world, it felt exactly as though I was watching TV back home. Neighbours was on.
You can read my complete travel journals at www.offexploring.com/globalwanderer and www.offexploring.com/globalwanderer2